What Does It Mean to “Hearken?”

We don’t use the word “hearken” in modern English. But it’s an important word in the scriptures: It appears 229 times in the Old Testament, 9 times in the New Testament, and 100 times in the Book of Mormon. Deepening our understanding of the word “hearken” will help us better appreciate God’s messages to us in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

In the Old Testament, the King James translators used “hearken” to translate multiple Hebrew words:

  1. shama (שָׁמַע) – hear, obey (See Deuteronomy 11:13.)
  2. qashab (קָשַׁב) – pay attention, incline your ears (See 1 Samuel 15:22.)
  3. azan (אָזַן) – give ear, listen (See Numbers 23:18.)

So when Nephi asks his brothers, “How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 7:9), he is wondering why they aren’t paying attention to God, why they aren’t listening intently, and why their behavior doesn’t reflect what they have heard.

When the angel tells Nephi that Gentiles will be adopted into the house of Israel if they will “hearken unto the Lamb of God” (1 Nephi 14:1), he is inviting us to turn our hearts toward the Savior, learn about His teachings, and live according to them.

When King Benjamin warns his people not to “trifle” with his words, but instead to “hearken” to them (Mosiah 2:9), he is asking them to give him their undivided attention and then to do something about what they learn.

Hearkening requires concentration, absorption, and action. We listen, we internalize, and we do. Notice the comprehensiveness of Mormon’s admonition in the final chapter of 3 Nephi, which begins with the word “hearken.” After completing his account of the Savior’s visit to the American continent, Mormon says:

Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel (3 Nephi 30:1-2).

Today I will hearken to the words of God. I will pay attention to the messages I receive from Him. I will strive to understand and internalize them. And I will act on them.

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