Words of Mormon 1:1 I, Mormon...have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people
Mormon writes the Words of Mormon during or just prior to 385 AD, the year of the great and last battle (he was about age 74 at the time, see Mormon 2:2). He declares that he has witnessed almost all the destruction of his people. The modifier "almost" is used because the last battle had not yet taken place. He later stated, I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people...therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni (Mormon 6:6). Mormon would complete his abridgement prior to the last battle in case his life would be taken. He had made the necessary preparations, anticipating that Moroni would witness the entire destruction of his people even if he didn't survive to see it. The phrase, being about to deliver up the record, makes it sound like Mormon is ready to give Moroni the records now, but later in this chapter we learn that Mormon has not yet abridged the large plates of Nephi from Mosiah to Mormon (see v. 5,9), nor has he completed his personal history as found in Mormon 1-7.
Words of Mormon 1:2 he will witness the entire destruction of my people
The words of Moroni, after receiving the record of his father, are as follows, And my father also was killed by them and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father (Mormon 8:3).
Mormon hopes that later, Moroni will be able to write concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them. Moroni finishes the record of Mormon (see Mormon chapters 8-9) and abridges the record of the Jaredites. Next, he records that he did not expect to write any more, but according to the wishes of Mormon, he was preserved to write the treasure called the Book of Moroni, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished...Wherefore, I write a few more things contrary to that which I had supposed...that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day, according to the will of the Lord (Moroni 1:1,4).
Words of Mormon 1:3 after I had made an abridgement from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, I found these plates
By way of explanation, Mormon has been abridging "the Large Plates of Nephi." So far, he has completed the abridgement down to the reign of king Benjamin. This record has been lost to the world. The translation was contained on the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost. Mormon, while abridging this record, must have read about a reference to the small plates (see DC 10:39). This prompted him to take a break in abridging the Large Plates to search for another record. This other record, called these plates, are "the Small Plates of Nephi." The small plates cover the same time period and have a spiritual tone which will later provide an able substitute for the record which was lost.
It is important to understand that this chapter was written after Mormon had abridged the record of Lehi, but before he had abridged Mosiah through Mormon. The evidence for this is as follows, 1) Mormon plainly states that he found the small plates after he had made an abridgement of the plates of Nephi (large plates) down to the reign of this king Benjamin. He had not yet finished abridging the entire record of the large plates, 2) He states in verse 5 that the remainder of his record (Mosiah through Mormon) will be taken from the plates of Nephi (as yet unabridged large plates), and 3) In verse 9, Mormon says, And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi. Apparently, Mormon is just about to begin his abridgment of the rest of the record. One could imagine Mormon in a room or cave filled with plates. He has been working hard on engraving the Plates of Mormon (see "A Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon" found in the front of the Book of Mormon). He has completed the abridgment from Lehi to Benjamin when he stops to find the small plates. He includes the small plates with his plates, writes the insert known as the words of Mormon, and then continues on to abridge the huge history which lay before him in the Large Plates of Nephi. No wonder he was left to exclaim, I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people (v. 5).
We learn from these verses that Mormon's work on the writings contained in the Book of Mormon took place just prior to the battle of 385 AD. This places his age over 70 and demonstrates his perspective as he abridges the record. Mormon is writing the words we know as the Book of Mormon after collecting all the wisdom of age and experience. He commonly includes stories of the Gadiantons because he has already seen the role the Gadiantons played in the final destruction of his people (Mormon 1:18). He is fatalistic about the Nephites, not just because he knows of prophecies concerning their destruction, but because he has already witnessed their fall. We found the same pattern in the life of Nephi, who began writing the record we know as 1 and 2 Nephi long after many events had already transpired-as late as 569 BC (2 Ne 5:28-30).
Words of Mormon 1:4 the things which are upon these plates pleasing me
Nephi's attention to things of the spirit hits a chord with his spiritual equal, Mormon. The two men were called in their youth to be prophets and leaders of their people. They recorded the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ while many people around them were choosing to follow the adversary. One mourned because he had witnessed the destruction of his people in vision. The other mourned because he had witnessed the destruction of his people in person. Note the similarities between the records of these two great prophets. Nephi says, I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall (1 Ne 15:5). Mormons feelings are similar, And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people (Mormon 6:16). It is not surprising, therefore, for Mormon to approve of the contents of the Small Plates of Nephi, for these two spiritual heroes, Mormon and Nephi, had similar desires for the welfare of their people and for the recipients of the Book of Mormon in the last days.
Words of Mormon 1:5 remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi
Again, this statement indicates that Mormon has not yet abridged the record from Mosiah to Mormon. He has only accomplished the work to the reign of Benjamin.
"The Words of Mormon were apparently written near the end of Mormon's life for the purpose of connecting two major records. It was made known to Mormon 'by the workings of the Spirit of the Lord' that the small plates of Nephi (which ended when Benjamin was a relatively young man) might be used to replace his abridgment of the book of Lehi (which ended when Benjamin was an old man about ready to die). So that a gap would not occur in the history of the Nephites, Mormon included the major events of the lifetime of King Benjamin in The Words of Mormon, thus connecting the account on the small plates of Nephi with Mormon's abridgment of the book of Mosiah." (Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p.171)
Words of Mormon 1:7 I do this for a wise purpose
The foreknowledge of God had anticipated the blunder of the 116 lost pages of the book of Lehi. It was for this reason that the Lord commanded Mormon to include the small plates with his abridged record. Nephi's record covered the same time period and included the more plain and precious parts [ministry and prophecies] (1 Ne 19:3). This spiritual record would be translated instead of retranslating the book of Lehi contained on the large plates. Thus, the Lord would show that his wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. DC 10: 38-45 contains the Lord's commands to Joseph Smith to translate the small plates of Nephi to replace the history lost in the 116 pages:
'And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands (the 116 pages), is engraven upon the (small) plates of Nephi;
Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.
And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account--
Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;
And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.
I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.
Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.' (DC 10:38-45)
The ability of the Lord to foresee and make preparations for an event 2400 years in the future is remarkable. This wise purpose of the Lord was referred to in several Book of Mormon passages.
Jeffrey R. Holland
"At least six times in the Book of Mormon the phrase 'for a wise purpose' is used in reference to the making, writing, and preserving of the small plates of Nephi (see 1 Nephi 9:5; Words of Mormon 1:7; Alma 37:2,12,14,18). We know one such wise purpose-the most obvious one-was to compensate for the lost 116 pages of manuscript. But it strikes me that there is a 'wiser purpose' than that....The key to such a suggestion is in verse 45 of Section 10....He says, 'Behold, there are many things engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel.' So clearly...it was not tit for tat, this for that-you give me 116 pages of manuscript and I'll give you 142 pages of printed text. Not so. We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so. We do not know exactly what we missed in the 116 pages, but we do know that what we received on the small plates was the personal declarations of three great witnesses, [Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah],...testifying that Jesus is the Christ....I think you could make a pretty obvious case that the sole purpose of the small plates was to give a platform for these three witnesses." (CES Symposium, BYU, Aug. 9, 1994 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 198)
Words of Mormon 1:11 they were handed down...until they have fallen into my hands
The small plates were kept with the large plates from the time of king Benjamin until the days of Mormon. Ammaron was the custodian of the plates in Mormon's day. He saw that Mormon was a sober child and decided to give him custody of the plates, but instructed them not to obtain them until the age of 24 (Mormon 1:2-3). Presumably at age 24, Moroni goes to the specified location, the hill Shim, and takes the Large Plates of Nephi into his possession. He leaves all the other records in the hill. He takes the Large Plates and begins his own story-the unabridged history of Mormon. This is presumably the long version of what we find in Mormon chapters 1-7. It is not until Mormon is 64 years old when he actually takes all the other plates out of the hill Shim (Mormon 4:23). Remember that there were many, many records other than the large and small plates. Mormon kept these plates for 10 years until he hides them up in the hill Cumorah. He places them in the hill right before the final battle so that they won't fall into the hands of the Lamanites (Mormon 6:6).
"The following are the names of the Nephite historians, with the times during which they held the plates. Where a blank space is noted, the information is not given in the Book of Mormon, and therefore can only be guessed at, which we choose not to do.
"Nephi, from _____ to 546 B.C.
Jacob, from 546 to ______.
Enos, from _____ to 422.
Jarom, from 422 to 362.
Omni, from 362 to 318.
Amaron, from 318 to 280.
Chemish, from 280 to _____.
Abinadom, from _____ to _____.
Amaleki, from _____ to 200 (circa).
King Benjamin, from 200 to 125.
King Mosiah, from 125 to 91.
Alma, the Younger, from 91 to 73.
Helaman, the Elder, from 73 to 57.
Shiblon, from 57 to 53.
Helaman, the Younger, from 53 to 39.
Nephi, from 39 to 1.
Nephi, the Disciple, from 1 to A.D. 34.
Nephi, the son of the Disciple, 34 to 110.
Amos, from 110 to 194.
Amos, the Younger, from 194 to 306.
Ammaron, from 306 to 320.
Mormon, from 320 to 385.
Moroni, from 385 to 420. Record closes."
(Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 27-8)
Words of Mormon 1:11 out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged
The Nephites and the Lamanites are not the only people who will be judged by the things recorded in the Book of Mormon. The same judgment will come on the members of the Church who have read the book but not lived by its precepts. John the Revelator recorded, I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Rev 20:12). Nephi explains that the Book of Mormon is one of those books out of which the dead were judged (2 Ne 25:18). Nephi warns, the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way (2 Ne 25:28).
Ezra Taft Benson
"Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not." (A Witness and a warning, pp. 7-8 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 152)
Marion G. Romney
"For me there could be no more impelling reason for reading the Book of Mormon than this statement of the Lord that we shall be judged by what is written in it." (Conference Report, Apr. 1960, pp. 110-111 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 152)
Words of Mormon 1:13 Benjamin...did fight with the strength of his own arm
Neal A. Maxwell
"As for his exemplifying of discipleship, we begin to learn of Benjamin's character well before his sermon. Just as this special king labored to produce his own necessities, he personalized his leadership in other ways. As a warrior-king, he did fight with the strength of his own arm, and with the sword of Laban in putting down unrest-to which false prophets, false Christs, and false preachers doubtless contributed. In this challenging context he was not alone, for there were many holy men in the land who assisted him. Thus, well prior to the great sermon, king Benjamin had been involved with typical single-mindedness in successful efforts to deal with contention and dissension. Acting, as he always did, with all the might of his body and the faculty of his own soul (v. 18). And thus peace was established in the land.
"Even with all this turbulence, brothers and sisters, king Benjamin did not become jaded, nor was he preoccupied with his role as a warrior-king. Clearly, he knew that his was a spiritual ministry. Even a cursory cruise through modern political and military history attests to how often individuals are both confined and defined by their contemporary events. We would never have had the great king Benjamin's sermon if he had been confined and defined by such prior events. Or likewise, we would never have had it if he had become desensitized by his genuine victories and achievements and had come to have even justifiable pride in them. His meekness in the face of his accomplishments, marks this man...Moreover, how many warrior kings, for instance, regard themselves as a teacher more than a king?" (Farms Symposia Audiotape, "Benjamin's Sermon: A Manual for Discipleship")
Words of Mormon 1:15 they punished according to their crimes
This is one of those grammatically awkward passages in the Book of Mormon. While we proclaim that the Book of Mormon is "the most correct book", detractors have often made criticisms because of punctuation errors or grammatical problems. The context of Joseph Smith's statement in this regard is that a man can grow nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. Therefore, it is doctrinally the most correct book on the earth. The spirit of revelation which emanates from its pages declares to all that Jesus is the Christ and that salvation comes through his name. In Book of Mormon Symposium Series, George A. Horton, Jr. explains:
"When Joseph Smith said 'the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth,' it seems evident that he was not talking about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. He was referring to the clarity and depth of doctrine, to the mission and message of the book, to the spirit of inspiration that it fosters, to the divine desire that it sparks in the soul to make the 'mighty change,' and to the abiding love of the Lord that it brings into our hearts."