Nephi created two sets of plates. One set contained a record of the history of his people (the large plates) and the other set contained a record of his ministry (the small plates) (1 Nephi 6:3-6, 1 Nephi 9:2-4).
Before Nephi’s death, he delivered the small plates to his younger brother Jacob, with instructions to keep them safe and write additional content (Jacob 1:2-4). The plates were passed down to family members for several hundred years until Amaleki, the last author, decided to turn them over to King Benjamin. After that, they were passed down together with the other records of the Nephites until Mormon found them as he was writing a history of his people. He was so impressed with these plates, and particularly with the prophecies of Christ contained on them, that he decided to insert them, unedited, with his history (Words of Mormon 1:3-6).
The preservation of this record for about 1,000 years—from Nephi to Mormon—is a miracle. Here is a list of the people who had responsibility for these plates and the approximate years that they had the plates in their possession. I’ve also included the relationship of each keeper of the plates to the prior keeper:
|Keeper of the Plates||Approximate years||Relationship to prior keeper||References|
|Nephi||600-554 B.C.||N/A||1 Nephi 6, 9|
|Jacob||544-? B.C.||Brother||Jacob 1:1-4|
|Enos||?-420 B.C.||Son||Enos 1:1, 25|
|Jarom||420-361 B.C.||Son||Jarom 1:1, 5, 13|
|Omni||361-318 B.C.||Son||Omni 1:1-3|
|Amaron||318-280 B.C.||Son||Omni 1:4-5|
|Chemish||280-? B.C.||Brother||Omni 1:9|
|Benjamin||??-124 B.C.||King||Omni 1:25|
|Mosiah||124-92 B.C.||Son||Mosiah 1:16|
|Alma||92-74 B.C.||Successor (1st chief judge)||Mosiah 28:20|
|Helaman||74-56 B.C.||Son||Alma 37:1-3, Alma 45:2, Alma 50:38|
|Shiblon||56-53 B.C.||Brother||Alma 63:1|
|Helaman||53-39 B.C.||Nephew||Alma 63:11-13|
|Nephi||39 B.C.-1 A.D.||Son||Helaman 3:37|
|Nephi||1-110 A.D.||Son||3 Nephi 1:2-3|
|Amos||110-194 A.D.||Son||4 Nephi 1:19-20|
|Amos||194-305 A.D.||Son||4 Nephi 1:21|
|Ammaron||305-321 A.D.||Brother||4 Nephi 1:47|
|Mormon||321-385 A.D.||N/A – Not related||Mormon 1:2-4|
|Moroni||385-421 A.D.||Son||Mormon 8:1-6|
What is remarkable to me is that, even though some of these keepers of the plates did not consider themselves to be particularly righteous people, they all took seriously the responsibility they had been given to preserve the plates. Here are a few examples:
- Jarom – “I deliver these plates into the hands of my son Omni, that they may be kept according to the commandments of my fathers” (Jarom 1:15).
- Omni – “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…. I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers” (Omni 1:2-3).
- Chemish: “After this manner we keep the records, it is according to the commandments of our fathers” (Omni 1:9).
Here’s my takeaway: imperfect people can collectively make an enormous difference if they are willing to take their responsibilities seriously. Omni may have considered himself to be wicked. He may have been disobedient to God in many ways. But he was obedient in one thing which mattered a lot. All of Nephi’s work, all of Jacob’s, Enos’s, and Jarom’s efforts to maintain the plates would have been wasted if Omni had failed to do his part. The earlier writers relied on him, and he fulfilled his duty to them in spite of his other failings.
Today, I will be grateful that imperfect people can contribute meaningfully to the work of the Lord. I will take seriously the responsibilities I have been given, knowing that God can perform miracles through my efforts in spite of my weaknesses.