“Slow of Speech”

Enoch was shocked when God called him to preach the gospel. “Why is it,” he asked, “that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31).

Communication effectiveness can’t be measured, and it’s easy to be hypercritical as a result. Many years later, when Moses was called, he responded in similar terms:

O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

Exodus 4:10, italics added

This is a reasonable rendering of the original Hebrew: kabad peh ukabad lashown (כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן), literally “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” Here are a few less-literal translations, illustrating how different people have interpreted this phrase:

  • I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled. (New Living Translation)
  • I am slow at speaking, and I can never think of what to say. (Contemporary English Version)
  • I talk too slowly and I have a speech impediment. (International Standard Version)

(See Exodus 4:10 parallel translations on biblehub.com.)

I’m not sure if I would go so far as to assume that either Moses or Enoch had a speech impediment. I think it’s easy enough for any of us to be self-conscious about our verbal communication.

Book of Mormon prophets expressed similar concerns about their communication skills:

  • Nephi: “I…cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking” (2 Nephi 33:1).
  • Ammon: “Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel” (Alma 26:16).
  • Moroni: “Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words” (Ether 12:25).

Note that Moroni’s worry in that last passage was triggered by a comparison of his own words with the eloquent writings of the brother of Jared. When we compare ourselves with great communicators, we are bound to come up short.

Here is the Lord’s response to these concerns: Start teaching, even if it feels uncomfortable, even if you doubt your qualifications. To Enoch, He said, “Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance” (Moses 6:32). To Moses: “I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Exodus 4:12).

Elder David A. Bednar reassured us that those promises apply to us as well:

For all of us who feel unprepared and overwhelmed and unequal to a new calling or responsibility, the promise of the Lord to Enoch is equally applicable. The promise was true in Enoch’s day, and it is true today.

In the Strength of the Lord,” General Conference, October 2004

Today, I will overcome feelings of inadequacy and diligently do the work I have been called to do. I will remember that God can help me communicate effectively in spite of my shortcomings, and I will exercise faith by opening my mouth and trusting that He will teach me what to say.

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