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Enos Wrestles with God
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Enos begins his record with a declaration that his father was a just man, and that he was taught in his father’s language as well as by the admonition of the Lord. This seems to be so similar to Nephi’s introduction of himself and his goodly parents that it would seem that Enos had read at least the beginning of Nephi’s book before writing his own book on those very same plates. It is an introduction that has no other purpose than to connect himself to his father, and then Enos moves to what will be the topic of his book. He will speak “of the wrestle which I had before God.”
The book of Enos is not very long, and it is possible that it was composed in a single writing event. However, it is more likely that there were at least two and perhaps more such events. The first probable division comes with the beginning of verse 20. However, the break is not obvious, and, therefore, the whole of the book still might have been a single reminiscent event. We will see evidence for that approach to this record at the beginning of the book of Omni.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
The setting for Enos’s struggle before the Lord comes as he is hunting alone in the forests. Before looking at the spiritual aspects, it is important to note that the Nephites had often spoken ill of the Lamanites because they hunted beasts, yet here Enos is hunting. The difference is whether or not hunting was the principle means of sustenance. The ethnocentric slur against the Lamanites was that, unlike the Nephites, they did not primarily farm. Hunting in and of itself was not the problem, simply the social implications of how much hunting needed to be done.
Joseph Smith would later enter woods to be alone and pray. Enos was already in the forests and went there for a different purpose. Nevertheless, both men were alone in nature and sought the God of nature in prayer.
The key for Enos is that “my soul hungered.” This may be a play on the reason that he was hunting in the woods. That hunt was for temporal food, but he found that it was his soul that hungered. There is a difference between simply praying and the earnest supplication that comes from a hungry soul. Enos says that he prayed for a long time. We must take him at his words. Even if his statement that he cried all day and into the night were not completely accurate, he nevertheless persisted in prayer a long time. This was because of the hungry soul. A casual prayer doesn’t have that much to say in private.
As a result of earnest effort to reach out to Yahweh, Enos is answered. We do not know why he came before the Lord, but the Lord responds that his sins were forgiven. This may have been similar to Jesus healing a man of palsy who could not rise from his bed by saying that sins were forgiven. Jesus indicated that it was no easier to say that one’s sins were forgiven than to say arise and walk (see Matthew 9:2–5).
We need not assume that Enos was guilty of major sin. Yahweh was declaring that he atoned for Enos’s sins and, therefore, Enos was pure enough to converse with the Lord.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?
8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.
The suggestion in the previous episode that Yahweh declared Enos’s sins forgiven indicated Yahweh’s power to atone, which is confirmed in these verses. Enos could legitimately ask how it might be done because no sacrifice had been made. In the law of Moses, sin was conceived communally as much as individually, and was atoned ritually through sacrifice. Enos had not performed sacrifice, but knew that if God declared him forgiven, he was forgiven. What he did not know is how that had been done.
Yahweh declares that it was “because of thy faith in Christ.” This is the reiteration of the essential aspect of the Nephite gospel. Nephi taught that forgiveness from sin would ultimately come through the atoning Messiah. Jacob, Enos’s father, had taught the same thing. Enos had declared in verse 1 that Jacob had taught Enos the gospel. Therefore, Enos theoretically understood. However, he did not fully understand the implication of the current power of the future atonement until Yahweh declared his sins forgiven.
9 Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.
10 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; wherefore, I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads.
Enos had received atonement for his own sins. That allowed him to expand his understanding to his brethren. Perhaps it was initially to family, as that would make sense, but when he writes of the experience, it is the whole of the Nephite nation. He desires that they also feel the redemption that Enos had felt.
Yahweh speaks to him again. The nature of that message tells us much of what the Nephites were like at that time. Yahweh reminds Enos that Yahweh has given the Nephites a land with a promise. It would not be cursed save for iniquity. It is the next phrase that is interesting: “I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads.” One might read this as a reference to when Yahweh really would physically come to the Nephites, as recounted in 3 Nephi.
The final phrase tells us that the “visit” is not necessarily a friendly one. Yahweh states that their transgressions will bring down sorrow on their heads. Nephi had lamented his people’s transgressions at the end of his book. The book of Jacob was entirely concerned with a people wandering from the path of righteousness. While Enos does not say anything about the current Nephites, it is clear from Yahweh’s declaration that they have not sufficiently repented and are still wandering from the true path. The hope at the end of the book of Jacob appears to have waned by his son’s time.
11 And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.
12 And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
Perhaps Enos turns to the topic of the Lamanites because it was the next possible choice. It is also probable that he does so because Yahweh has just said that the Nephites will have sorrow brought upon them. Perhaps that forlorn picture of the future of the Nephites led Enos to dream of hope in the redemption of the Lamanites.
An unusual technique that occurs from time to time in the Book of Mormon is the statement of the conclusion, prior to the details behind the conclusion. That is what we have in verse 12. That is the conclusion. Yahweh grants Enos’s request. We learn that—before we learn what the request was.
Enos does not pray for the salvation of the Nephites, for Yahweh had already declared their fate. What he does, however, is think about the records. He believes that the Lamanites might want to destroy them, and that perhaps they could be a future tool for the conversion of the Lamanites.
Why, however, would the Lamanites want to destroy the records? This would principally be the brass plates, which had probably become a symbol of Nephite legitimacy as a relic from the Old World, along with the Liahona and the sword of Laban. Those artifacts would be passed down to future kings as we will see with king Benjamin. Destroying the records would destroy a Nephite claim of superior right of rulership over the Lamanites.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
17 And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.
18 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.
To this point in Enos’s prayer, the most important promise he receives is that the records will be preserved. While the concern for the Lamanite destruction of the records would most logically be for the plates of brass, Enos understands that there are other records of the Nephite people. If we understand from his introduction that he read Nephi’s record, and as a son, certainly he had read his father’s record, he knew that there were things in those records that should be preserved. Therefore, his concern for preservation might have begun with understanding a Lamanite thread against the plates of brass, but he expanded that concern to the official Nephite records, and probably to those upon which he was writing.
Yahweh promises that they would be preserved, and notes that Enos has repeated a request also made by “thy fathers.” In the scriptures, “fathers” might have a long time-depth. It could have meant Old Testament prophets. However, in the context of the Nephites, it is most likely that this comment refers to Nephi and Jacob. Nephi, in particular, understood that their records would eventually come forth, and, therefore, Nephi was certainly one of those “fathers.”
If the book of Enos were written in more than one writing event, this would have ended the first event. There is a thematic break with the following verse, although it is subtle. Thus, it is possible, but not certain, that Enos wrote the sections at different times.
Enos Stereotypes the Lamanites and Nephites
19 And now it came to pass that I, Enos, went about among the people of Nephi, prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things which I had heard and seen.
20 And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.
21 And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.
These three verses should be seen as the conclusion to Enos’s entry about his prayer. They describe the aftermath of his conversation with Yahweh. His impulse was to go among the people of Nephi and prophesy of things to come. This suggests that there was more to the prayer than what he recorded, and that it included a call as a prophet. As with his grandfather, Lehi, he was not a court-appointed prophet or teacher, In the tradition of the Old Testament, Enos was a prophet from the outside who was called to teach the people without official governmental appointment.
In verse 20 Enos says that “the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God.” That certainly indicates that there were still righteous Nephites who were attempting to do good, contrary to the implications we have seen from the end of 2 Nephi, the book of Jacob, and the inferences in the book of Enos. That number of righteous Nephites perhaps was the reason that the Nephite destruction came much later, even though Jacob had threatened them with it.
Perhaps the mission, or missions, to the Lamanites were aided by Jacob’s indication that the Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites (see Jacob 3:5). Whatever the motivation, the result was not encouraging. Enos declares that “our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed.”
The rest of the catalog of the terrible things that the Lamanites did was a standard ethnocentric complaint. The demonstration that this is a cultural description is verified in verse 21. Where the Lamanites are savages, the Nephites are civilized. The proof is in the savage way the Lamanites provide for themselves as opposed to the civilized Nephite agriculture and herding. Lamanites deal with the wild, Nephites with the cultivated.
Even if it were true at one point in time, the larger numbers of the Lamanites and what we see of them later in the text, tells us that this was not an accurate picture.
22 And there were exceedingly many prophets among us. And the people were a stiffnecked people, hard to understand.
23 And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—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. And after this manner do I write concerning them.
24 And I saw wars between the Nephites and Lamanites in the course of my days.
These comments are summaries. They do not have the detail of the record of Enos’s prayer. Nephi’s instruction for these small plates is that they pertain more to the ministry, and Enos followed that command. The interchange with Yahweh certainly qualified. These events are more historical, although they are the history of efforts at ministering. Because they appear to have been largely failures, Enos does not dwell on them.
The various missions to the Lamanites suggested that there continued to be righteous men and women among the Nephites. This description of the stiff-necked rejection of many prophets indicates that the problems Nephi and Jacob lamented yet remain. The missions to the Lamanites had also failed. Thus, Enos concludes by noting the wickedness of the Nephites, and according to the promise of the land, that should lead to destructive events. Therefore, there were wars with the Lamanites in Enos’s lifetime. The promise was, of course, being fulfilled.
Enos’s Final Testimony
25 And it came to pass that I began to be old, and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.
26 And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.
27 And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.
Enos uses the standard phrase “began to be old” to indicate that he is about to die. He declared that one hundred and seventy-nine years had passed from the time that Lehi had left Jerusalem. That dating is a question, and one without a clean answer. It is possible that there was a missing generation, but the record is otherwise consistent in listing those caring for the record, such as in the book of Omni, where multiple record-keepers do little more than indicate that they were in the line to do so. We also have the problem of knowing that Jacob’s son was named Enos and was charged with the records (Jacob 7:27). There is really no textual room for a missing generation, even if there is time.
The most likely answer is that Enos was born much later in Jacob’s life, and that both Jacob and Enos lived to be seventy or eighty. That is still an extended chronology, but possible.
Note that as Enos leaves his final blessing, he returns to the theme of his wrestle before Yahweh to receive forgiveness. Enos says that he must “declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ.” That was what he learned that allowed his sins to be forgiven, and it was the most important message of the Nephite prophets.
The phrase “when my mortal shall put on immortality” echoes the language of 1 Corinthians 15:53. Obviously it could not have been a reference to that verse, and, therefore, the language similarity is the result of the translator’s choice of words. The plates were not in English, so that phrase could not have been on them, even though the concept could have been.
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