As I've been thinking about Omni, I started asking myself, what is actually there in his words that I can notice and learn from?
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—
2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, 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.
3 And it came to pass that two hundred and seventy and six years had passed away, and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed. Yea, and in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away, and I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers; and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end. (Omni 1:1-3)
I notice that the purpose of keeping the record on the small plates has changed by this time. It is no longer kept as a repository of the most plain and sacred things, but it is kept to preserve the genealogy. I checked earlier in the Book of Mormon and it seems that somehow the purpose changed when the plates came to Omni’s father Jarom because Jarom similarly states that he keeps the plates to keep their genealogy, although he adds as an afterthought that another intent is to benefit the Lamanites. By the time the plates get to Omni, the desire to benefit the Lamanites seems to have been forgotten. (Was Omni so used to fighting Lamanites by this time that he was ambivalent about writing to benefit them?)
In Omni, I also notice that in verse 3 there are two difference statements about how many years had passed away. First, 276 years had passed away. Very soon afterward, “in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away” showing there was a gap of six years between when the verse was started and finished. I will venture to speculate that Omni began writing while laid up from war wounds. Perhaps he was not sure he would survive and wanted to get something down before it was too late. The way he starts out, it is as if he is about to introduce additional material, but then gives up. I wonder if the narrative task intimidated him or if the difficulty of engraving on plates was too much. Perhaps he felt like he didn’t have anything of significance to say that drove him to write.
and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed – This seemed curious to me for some reason. It is as if peace and war are conditions that change with the seasons of the year. (John L. Sorenson argues this was the case in his article “Seasons of War, Seasons of Peace in the Book of Mormon”) As I was pondering this bit of information and trying to see if there was anything of a spiritual nature that could be gleaned from it, I realized that if seasons of peace and seasons of war have a pattern, then that means they are predictable. And if they are predictable, then that means we can plan around them both to prepare and to cope better. (Two quick application questions: How do you think we can plan around the season of political war associated with national elections? If there is a pattern of contention in our homes, how do we plan around this to strengthen our families?)
Another thing I notice is that Omni said there were many of these seasons of peace and war. The very nature of a cycle that repeats is that there is opportunity for learning to take place. If we can learn something beneficial from each trip through the cycle, then it can become a refining process for us. But if we learn nothing, then it is just another instance of suffering that leads to bitterness. And too, who says the cycle has to continue?
At the end of Omni’s little account, he says this, “I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers..” Well, when we compare the quality and quantity of Omni’s writings to those of his predecessors, his underperformance is obvious to us. If he is cheeky enough to call this miniscule scrawl “according to the commandments of [his] fathers,” we may well wonder if this is a desperate self-deception or if this is a sample of the type of obedience he exhibited at other times. It also causes me to examine my own life and think about what commandments I may claim I am obedient to but actually underperform in.
As you can see, my opinion of Omni swings back and forth. I want to see good in him from his record, but there is so little record to see! What do you think?