President Ezra Taft Benson declared in general conference, “The Book of Mormon … was written for our day. The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us.” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 6.) A close look at the book reveals how and why this is so.
The Book of Mormon fits our era of world history precisely, even though it refers to age-old events that happened in a foreign culture. We can see a comparison in some lovely modern homes made of bricks from previous structures. The old bricks may have interest in themselves, but they are now parts of newer homes much different from the older houses. Likewise, the Book of Mormon contains carefully selected and integrated “bricks” of history, sermons, letters, admonitions, and prophecies, shaped specifically and intentionally into a beautiful “house” designed for the latter days.
“In its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, [the Book of Mormon] is as current as the morning newspaper, and much more definitive,” said Elder Gordon B. Hinckley. (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 8.)
The Book of Mormon can be said to be a sort of “time capsule,” written in ancient America but designed for a latter-day audience. The book itself and its stories and admonitions were chosen and shaped by Mormon and his son Moroni from many other records, then hidden away to come forth to the people in our day.
The truth is, at the end of the Nephite civilization, Mormon’s own people would not listen to his preaching, refusing to call on God even in their distress. In fact, for many years the Lord forbade Mormon to preach. (See Morm. 1:15–17.) The writings of his son Moroni are those of a lone wanderer destined to bury his precious work in the earth. From title page to parting words, this father and son wrote that what they were inspired to include is first for the latter-day Lamanites and second for the latter-day Gentiles and Jews. (See Morm. 5:9–14.) Moroni says, “I speak unto you as if ye were present.” (Morm. 8:35.) His and Mormon’s injunctions have the ring of immediacy.
As we look closer, however, we see that although Mormon and Moroni are actually the hands-on authors of the bulk of the Book of Mormon, the primary behind-the-scenes director is the Lord Jesus Christ. As Mormon affirms, “I … write the things which have been commanded me of the Lord.” (3 Ne. 26:12.) A revelation from the Lord to Joseph the ancient Egyptian patriarch clarifies that what is in the Book of Mormon is “the words which are expedient in my wisdom should go forth unto the fruit of thy loins.” (2 Ne. 3:19; italics added.)
The Book of Mormon heralds the prophesied fulfillment of the covenants that the Lord made with ancient Israel (see 2 Ne. 29:1–2, 14; D&C 10:46–52) and prepares us for the Millennium. The Book of Mormon was written specifically so “that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men.” (Ether 8:26; see also 2 Ne. 30:18.)
According to Moroni’s title page, the book was written primarily to the future Lamanites, “a remnant of the house of Israel,” to show them “what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers.” These “great things” surely include their forefathers’ deliverance from Jerusalem, their establishment in the promised land, the great missionary work among the Lamanites, and the Savior’s visit to both the Nephites and Lamanites. All these events are significant for latter-day Israel, not only as historical realities, but also as prophetic parallels: similar “great things” are prophesied for our time.
The overall structure of the Book of Mormon provides a pointed message to modern-day Lamanites. The volume begins and ends with concern for the Lamanites receiving the gospel (the title page is balanced by Moroni’s final exhortation to “my brethren, the Lamanites” in Moro. 10:1), while the center of the book, Alma 23–27, focuses on the conversion of the Lamanites. Nephi reiterates these main points, saying that through the Book of Mormon the Lamanites shall come to know that they are of the house of Israel and “shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (2 Ne. 30:5.)
Then, toward the end, Mormon says much the same thing: “Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel. …
“Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, … and believe in Jesus Christ.” (Morm. 7:2–5.)
The secondary audiences of the Book of Mormon are the Jews and the Gentiles. To the Jews, the book testifies that Jesus is the Christ; to the Gentiles, that Jesus is the Christ. That is, the book is for “the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus [and no other] is the very Christ.” (2 Ne. 26:12.) The Savior said to the Nephites regarding the Jews, “The time cometh, when the fulness of my gospel shall be preached unto them;
“And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name.” (3 Ne. 20:30–31.)
For Gentiles who admire Jesus as a great man or who profess a belief in Jesus but deny his power (see Morm. 8:28), the book testifies that he is “a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham,” that he “created the heavens and the earth,” and that “because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.” (Morm. 9:11–12.)
The Book of Mormon not only contains prophecy and fulfills prophecy, it shows us prophetic patterns and types that are applicable to the latter days. In the Old Testament, many events are both history and prophecy. For instance, when a multitude of Israelites were dying from poisonous serpent bites, Moses lifted up a brazen serpent upon a pole. Those who looked at the serpent lived. (See Num. 21:6–9.) However, that experience also pointed to the future as a type of Christ’s crucifixion. (See Alma 33:19–20; Hel. 8:14–15.)
The Savior himself attested, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14–15.)
In a similar manner, many events in the Book of Mormon not only have significance for the time in which they occurred, but also are included as types for the last days. The events of 3 Nephi, for example, can be seen to foreshadow the destruction of the world and the glory of Christ’s second coming, just as 4 Nephi may be seen to prefigure the Millennium.
More specifically, Mormon often points out to his readers, the people of our day, the lessons of events that happened before our time. Mormon sees these events as patterns for us to learn from. (See Alma 24:19; Alma 28:13; Alma 30:60; Alma 50:19; Hel. 3:27–28.) For example, after describing a righteous period that quickly gave way to a period plagued by Gadianton robbers, Mormon declared, “We may see at the very time when [God] doth prosper his people, … doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.” (Hel. 12:2.)
Mormon then reminds us that his wishes for the last days would not always be fulfilled: “I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out … from the presence of the Lord;
“Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery.” (Hel. 12:25–26.)
The detailed stories in the Book of Mormon act as warning and instruction for our generation. We learn the value of freedom through the compelling story of Captain Moroni and his title of liberty. We learn the dangers of secret combinations through the chilling accounts of Kishkumen, Gadianton, and Akish. The book exposes the nature of deception through the dramatic encounters between Jacob and Sherem, Alma and Nehor, and Alma and Korihor. Each of these dangers face us today, and the Book of Mormon accounts clearly show how righteous people can act and succeed in such situations.
Through Mormon, Moroni, and others, the Lord also emphasized certain themes that are especially important to present-day Lamanites, Gentiles, and Jews. Through every major Nephite prophet, for example, the Lord declared: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.” (2 Ne. 1:20—Lehi; see also 1 Ne. 2:20–21—Nephi; 2 Ne. 10:19–20—Jacob; Mosiah 1:7—Benjamin; Alma 9:13—Alma; Alma 48:25—Mormon; Ether 2:7–9—Moroni and the brother of Jared.)
Another theme is the vivid portrayal time and again that “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10.) This is contrasted again and again with accounts of “the joy of the saints.” (Enos 1:3.) The lesson is that righteousness leads to eternal life and sinfulness to the captivity of the devil.
Charity, whether of God or of man, is another vital theme for the modern age. The power behind Mormon’s great sermon on charity at the end of the book has its counterpart at the beginning. Nephi declares in his parting testimony: “I have charity for my people. …
“I have charity for the Jew. …
“I also have charity for the Gentiles. But behold, for none of these can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation.” (2 Ne. 33:7–9.)
The prophets after Nephi continue Nephi’s essential focus: to have faith, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. The Book of Mormon thus benefits from a structure that ties the various, diverse parts into one compelling whole.
Much more important is the single-mindedness of Book of Mormon prophets in testifying of and teaching about Jesus Christ: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Ne. 25:26.)
This continued a tradition began in the Old World, though it is much more clearly understood in the New World. During one of his appearances to the Nephites and Lamanites, the Lord said, “All the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have testified of me.” (3 Ne. 20:24.)
The intended audience, selected materials, and structure of the Book of Mormon, then, all emphasize the book’s latter-day significance. Mormon describes the Savior giving scriptures to the assembled multitude because it was wisdom in the Father “that they should be given unto future generations.” (3 Ne. 26:2.) Mormon then applies that to himself:
“These things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which [Christ] taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken.” (3 Ne. 26:8.)
Presented multiple times as a witness, the book’s message is clear: if the Gentiles in the promised land keep the commandments, they shall prosper; if they do not, they shall be cut off from the Lord. To Lamanites languishing in a condition of spiritual captivity, the Book of Mormon offers a way to obtain the promises of the Lord in “the latter times.” (Hel. 15:11–12.) The record speaks unto them “out of the dust” (Moro. 10:27), challenging them to “arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:14). To the Jews, the Book of Mormon promises restoration and redemption when they begin to “believe in Christ … and look not forward any more for another Messiah.” (2 Ne. 25:16.) This will be accomplished in part by the Nephite record, which “shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah.” (2 Ne. 25:18; see also 2 Ne. 29:8–14.)
The Book of Mormon is a volume of scripture custom-made for the Restoration. Many of its authors saw its role in the Lord’s latter-day work, taking comfort that he would make their writing strong. (See 2 Ne. 30:3–7; 2 Ne. 33:11; Morm. 8:25–26; Ether 12:23–29.) Their words are confident as they urge us to heed their message:
“I exhort you to remember these things,” wrote Moroni, “for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead … ?
“Again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift.” (Moro. 10:27–30.) Undoubtedly, one of the greatest and finest gifts of God that we ought to lay hold on is his ancient record for a modern people—the Book of Mormon.
The book of Ether is a parable of warning for our time. Unlike most parables, however, it is based not on a fictitious narrative but on the fortunes of an actual nation. As such, the book illustrates the conditions for physical and spiritual survival and warns us against those forces that would destroy us.
The book’s message is presented in six parts. This is clearer in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which originally divided Ether into six chapters rather than the fifteen versed chapters we have today: 1 (chapters 1–4 in the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon), 2 (chapter 5, 1981 edition), 3 (chapters 6–8), 4 (chapters 9–11), 5 (chapter 12), and 6 (chapters 13–15). All but one of these six chapters begin with “And now I, Moroni,” and the one exception (chapter 5, 1830 edition) still has the fourth sentence beginning with “And now I, Moroni”—showing that Moroni had edited the record of the Jaredites to illustrate what he felt was crucial. As did Mormon, Moroni frequently used a phrase like “thus we see” to signal that he was drawing a point for his readers.
The preface to Ether is the last two chapters (chapter 4, 1830 edition) in the previous book, Mormon. Here we learn that Moroni wrote specifically for those who would be living when the Book of Mormon would come forth—us. In one passage, he cataloged the sins of our generation. They are the same sins that brought about the destruction of the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations: pride, materialism, vanity, lack of charity, pollution of the church of God, and support of secret combinations. (See Morm. 8:26–41.)
The first part of the book of Ether is the story of the brother of Jared (chapters 1–4, 1981 edition). It demonstrates the kind of faith that brought the Jaredites to the promised land and serves as a backdrop against which we read the rest of the book of Ether. In these pages, Moroni stresses that the inhabitants of the promised land are always promised freedom if they “will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.” (Ether 2:8, 12.) At the same time, he warns modern-day Gentiles to repent “that [they] may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon [them] as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.” (Ether 2:11.)
The second part (chapter 5, 1981 edition) is Moroni’s words to the future translator of the book. In these pages, he attests that the Book of Mormon will be shown to witnesses and that their testimony—with the book itself—“shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day.” (Ether 5:4.) It ends with Moroni’s claim to authority from God to bear the testimony that he does.
The third part (chapters 6–8) capsulizes the patterns of righteousness and unrighteousness that the Jaredites established in the promised land, warning future inhabitants of the need for repentance to avoid destruction. It details the introduction of secret combinations into Jaredite society and warns modern-day Gentiles that, just as secret combinations caused the destruction of both the Jaredites and the Nephites, they, too, will be destroyed if they uphold secret combinations. (See Ether 8:22–23.) Seeing our peril, Moroni pleads that we “come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved.” (Ether 8:26; see also Ether 8:23.)
The fourth part (chapters 9–11) shows the disastrous effect that secret combinations had among the Jaredites and outlines the rise and decline of the Jaredite civilization, amply illustrating that those who inherit the land must serve the Lord or be destroyed.
The fifth part (chapter 12) introduces the last Jaredite prophet, Ether, and his teachings on faith. It then moves into Moroni’s exposition of faith, hope, and charity, teaching us what we must do to counteract the evil tendencies of our day.
The final part (chapters 13–15) is Moroni’s description of the final destruction of the Jaredites. From his record we see the nearly incomprehensible consequences of iniquity and secret combinations. The Jaredite nation descends into savagery and is exterminated.
The book of Ether, then, consists of instructions on and examples of faith, details on the nature and danger of secret combinations, and an account of how a nation can be destroyed by turning away from the teachings of Jesus Christ. All of this is directed at the Gentiles who will receive the Book of Mormon. The book of Ether is thus a pattern of what will happen if our generation does not repent. At the same time, it describes how we can escape destruction and details the great blessings that come to those who turn to the Savior.
In a larger context, the book of Ether serves as a second witness with the Nephite record of God’s promises and warnings to our day. Both records declare, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep [the Lord’s] commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep [the Lord’s] commandments ye shall be cut off from [his] presence.” (2 Ne. 4:4; see also Ether 2:7–10; Ether 13:20–21.) Both illustrate for Latter-day Saints the need for faith, hope, and charity.
The terrifying fact is that the parable of destruction, acted out by two ancient peoples, the Jaredites and the Nephites, could be repeated in the last days. The warning is clear: learn from the past. As Moroni wrote, “Give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” (Morm. 9:31.)