In my experience, the last memorable prophetic moment in the small plates of Nephi takes place when Enos wrestles before God. After that, the scriptures quickly pass from father to son, touching briefly on the wars and the stickneckedness of the Nephites. From there Mormon interjects and gives us an explanation of the small plates before beginning his abridgment of King Benjamin, where we are immediately filled with a beautiful visual of the Lord’s covenant with His children. To me, it always seemed as if those few books held little more than a timeline. However, I can tell you that there is much more than meets the eye.
To show you the deeper significance I gleaned from these chapters, we need to back up all the way to 1st Nephi. In 1 Nephi 2:19-20 we read:
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
So here we read the covenant that the Lord made with Nephi, and as this is the first time it is mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Given Nephi’s age at the time, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that this is the first time the Lord made this promise to him. But it wasn’t the first time the promise was given. After Sariah complains against Lehi he says “I know I am a visionary man, but I have obtained a land of promise”. Long before he ever set eyes on that land, he praised God for a blessing that he had yet to receive. Lehi goes into more detail in 2 Nephi 1:
…we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed…Wherefore, I Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land…But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord…he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten.
The idea of the Lord making the same covenant over and over again with the prophets of the time is not new. In the Old Testament we read of the Covenant that the Lord made with Abraham (the Abrahamic Covenant) was renewed with Isaac, and again with Jacob. The Lord making a specific covenant with Lehi and renewing that Covenant with his son, Nephi, follows the pattern that the Lord had previously set in ancient times. As written, the covenant with the descendants of Nephi seems fairly straightforward: whosoever follows the commandments of God will prosper in the land and if they rebel against God, they will be cut off from His presence and they will be scattered and destroyed.
After Nephi’s death, Jacob begins to worry about the state of affairs in the Nephite kingdom and the people gather together to hear him. In Jacob 2, Jacob says:
I can tell you concerning your thoughts, how that ye are beginning to labor in sin…
Yea, It grieveth my soul and caught me to shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I just testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts.
And it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;
And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which health the wounded soul.
Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained… to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
Wow! Harsh, right? There are a few things I would like to bring your attention to.
- The phrase “they have come hither to hear the pleasing word of God” jumps out at me. If you read between the lines, you can see that the people had gathered together to listen to their prophet. For a “General Conference” of sorts. At the time of Jacob, the Nephites were still practicing the Law of Moses and very likely had gathered for one of the three pilgrimage festivals, when the jews would assemble together to worship at the temple and offer sacrifice. Being an ocean away from the temple in Jerusalem wasn’t going to stop their obedience to the law. So under the direction of the Lord, they built another.
- In verse 5 Jacob says, “ye are beginning to labor in sin”. The sins of which he speaks seem to be, if not a relatively new phenomenon, at least in the beginning stages of widespread acceptance. We know from reading the rest of the chapter that the abominations that Jacob speaks of are two-fold. The first is idolatry (specifically, greed and seeking for riches), the second is sexual immorality. Both subjects are often spoken of in our own General Conferences today.
- He clearly did not want to speak to the people about this. He wanted to comfort the afflicted, but the Lord saw fit to afflict the comfortable. Jacob was on the Lord’s errand and the Lord was calling these souls to repentance.
Jacob gives a powerful call to repentance and tries to comfort those whose hearts had been broken. On the heels of these chapters Jacob gives, in my opinion, one of the most powerful allegories of the mortal experience and the lengths to which our Father will go to help save our immortal souls. Several years later, after a run in with the Book of Mormon’s first anti-Christ, Jacob bequeaths the Small Plates of Nephi on his son, Enos.
While Enos was venturing out to hunt for food, his soul hungered as it had never hungered before. He was pondering on the words of his father; possibly the very words that had been spoken in that memorable “Conference”. Enos might have been sitting there in the audience, with his wife and children, also expecting to hear the pleasing word of God. It’s hard to say whether Enos was one of those men who needed to hear that sharp rebuke, but regardless the when and the why, Enos felt the truth of his father’s words pierce his heart and the hunger of his body was swallowed up in the hunger of his soul.
Enos repents, is forgiven, pleads for the souls of his brethren, and again the covenant is renewed.
And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying” I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. I have given unto them this land, and it is a holy land; and I curse it not save it be for the cause of iniquity…
Then, after he expands his prayer for forgiveness to include the Lamanites (whom he no longer saw as enemies) and the sacred record that he would soon inherit, he says:
…and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.
And the Lord said unto me, Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine.
Wow! Just… wow! “And my soul did rest”. What peace. What love. What confidence in the power and authority of God’s word. Moses 1:39 says, “this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Not only did Enos receive remission of his sins long before the physical act of the Atonement had taken place (showing the faith of Lehi), but in giving his whole soul to God, Enos aligned his will with God’s will. God’s work became Enos’s work, just as Jacob’s, Nephi’s, and Lehi’s before him. After this experience Enos immediately went about his Father’s business by “prophesying of things to come and testifying of the things which [he] had heard and seen.” Notwithstanding his efforts, the Nephites’s behavior necessitates Enos to continue the tradition of his father:
And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness… stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the lord. I say there was nothing short of these things and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction.
I’m sure Enos would have loved to preach the wonderful and marvelous mysteries of God, but instead he spent his days calling them to repentance and reminding them of all that was at stake. This pattern is continued with Jarom, who speaks of the “hardness of their hearts, and the deafness of their ears, and the blindness of their minds” Yet through it all, Jarom rejoices, “nevertheless, God is exceedingly merciful unto them, and has not as yet swept them off from the face of the land.”
It seems as if the covenant of his fathers was renewed again with Jarom and he did all he could to encourage righteousness among the saints. And then, 282 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, the people have collectively turned their back on the God of their fathers. Even Omni, the keeper of the plates, admits this. He writes just enough to explain the continuous war and that “I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.”
After another 38 years Amaron, likely after a long life filled with war and destruction lives to see the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise:
…and the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed.
For the Lord would not suffer, after he had led them out of the land of Jerusalem and kept and preserved them from falling into the hands of their enemies, yea, he would not suffer that the words should not be verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land.
Wherefore the Lord did visit them in great judgement; nevertheless he did spare the righteous that they should not perish, but did deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.
Amaron passes the plates to his brother Chemish, Chemish passes them to his son Abinadom, Abinadom passes them to Amaleki. Three or four generations of constant war. The more wicked part had been destroyed and the more righteous have been humbled enough for the Lord to begin to prepare them for something greater.
Doesn’t God do this to us sometimes? Doesn’t he, after our continued disobedience and deafness, withdraw His protection and Spirit? I’m not saying that all of our trials and difficulties in life are “punishment” for our sins. Not in the slightest. The mortal experience is infinitely complex and cannot be summed up in such a way. However there are times, and I have experienced them myself, that the Lord no longer enables my self-imposed ignorance and pride. He will allow me to feel the full consequences of my spiritual rebellion by withdrawing the comfort and inner-peace that only Faith in Him can bring. If I am unwilling to turn to Him and allow His word to change me into what He means for me to be, if I turn my back on His outstretched hand, He will, as a loving parent does with his child, allow me to fail. He allows me to fall so that I can learn. He humbles me so that I can, through Him, become great.
We can see the greater pattern in the design, can’t we? Can you see how the path of the Nephites in these few (and often overlooked) chapters follows the individual spiritual path that most of us take?
Mosiah was warned of the lord to take as many Nephites as would go with him, and “depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness”. Their wandering through the wilderness is reminiscent of both Lehi and Nephi’s travels and that of the children of Israel. They were “led by many preachings and prophesying. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness…”
The Nephites are led to a land called Zarahemla, a land and a promise prepared for not only the descendants of Nephi but of Mulek, the son of King Zedekiah of the Old Testament.
Because I know you want to spend time with your family, just as I do with mine, I’ll save my interpretation of the next bit for another day.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to dig deeper into these scriptures. It almost makes me wish I could teach every week!