Preparing for the Plates
I’ve loved reading Saints Volume 1, and I’ve appreciated the expanded view of Church history it provides. One of the events I learned more about was the circumstances surrounding Joseph’s obtaining of the plates upon which the Book of Mormon was written.
The story with which I was familiar was the account from modern copies of the Book of Mormon, the Testimony of the Prophet Smith. In the account Joseph simply says,
“I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates.”
From this account, I assumed the time for the plates to come forth was largely predestined; there was little Joseph could do to influence the timetable, and he was to have his annual interviews with Moroni until the time came.
That’s not entirely the case. Saints fills in some of the details omitted in the Book of Mormon account.
Prior to Joseph’s first visit, his thoughts were wrapped up in the monetary value of the plates:
“Joseph thought about the plates as he walked. Even though he knew they were sacred, it was hard for him to resist wondering how much they were worth….Joseph could not help thinking that he now knew exactly where to find enough treasure to free his family from poverty.”
After uncovering the plates, Joseph was astonished, and he “wondered again how much the plates were worth. He reached for them – and felt a shock pulse through him. He jerked his hand back but then reached for the plates twice more and was shocked each time.“
“Why can I not obtain this book?” he cried out.
“Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord,” a voice said nearby.
“Joseph turned and saw Moroni. At once the message from the night before flooded his mind, and he understood that he had forgotten the record’s true purpose.”
Things did not go much better on Joseph’s second visit to the hill when he learned a painful lesson about carelessness.
“Moroni’s instructions for retrieving the plates were clear. ‘You must take them into your hands and go straight to the house without delay,’ the angel had said, ‘and lock them up.'”
“At the hill, Joseph pried up the rock, reached into the stone box, and lifted out the plates. A thought then crossed his mind: the other items in the box were valuable and out to be hidden before he went home. He set the plates down and turned to cover the box. But when he returned to the plates, they were gone. Alarmed, he fell to his knees and pleaded to know where they were.
“Moroni appeared and told Joseph that he had failed to follow directions again. Not only had he set the plates down before safely securing them, he had also let them out of his sight. As willing as the young seer was to do the Lord’s work, he was not yet able to protect the ancient record.”
Joseph’s third visit was perhaps the most convicting of the three. He was still unprepared, and would soon be out of time.
“In September 1826, Joseph returned to the hill for the plates, but Moroni said he was still not ready for them. ‘Quit the company of the money diggers,’ the angel told him. There were wicked men among them. Moroni gave him one more year to align his will with God’s. If he did not, the plates would never be entrusted to him.“
Three attempts, and each time Joseph found himself unprepared for the responsibility of caring for the plates. In the final year before his fourth visit, he made a concerted effort to overcome his shortcomings and “set myself about the things which God has commanded me to do.” We all know what happened on that last visit – Moroni allowed him to take the plates, and the work of translation commenced.
I learned from this story that while the Lord may be ready to bestow blessings upon us, these things are not predestined. In fact, we can have a tremendous impact on when and how we receive what the Lord wants to give us.
And perhaps this applies to more than just plates.
“All the Lord’s People”
In Numbers 11, we learn shortly after leaving Sinai a council of seventy was chosen from among the elders of all the tribes except Levi, and set apart by Moses. The spirit of the Lord rested upon them, and they prophesied within the tabernacle (v. 25). Yet two of these elders were not in the tabernacle and prophesied in the camp as the spirit fell upon them (v. 26).
Joshua was concerned, and told Moses, “My lord Moses, forbid them” (v. 28).
Moses replied, “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (v. 29).
Moses, far from being jealous of the witness of these men, wished for an entire people prepared to be prophets of the Lord.
For members of the Church who are used to associating “prophet” with the men who serve in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, it may be odd to hear Moses speak like this, but remember what John tells us – “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Using the example of Simeon and Anna, President Oaks taught many years ago:
“Anna and Simeon were eyewitnesses to the infant, but, just like the Apostles, their knowledge of his divine mission came through the witness of the Holy Ghost….Therefore, we can properly say that when each received this witness, Simeon was a prophet and Anna was a prophetess. Each then fulfilled the prophetic duty to testify to those around them. As Peter said, ‘To [Christ] give all the prophets witness.’ (Acts 10:43.) This was what Moses meant when he expressed the wish “that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”
If this is something the Lord wants for each of us – and it is – we might wonder why we aren’t receiving the greater light, the greater witness, we’re seeking after. Have you ever sought greater light and wondered at the silence? Have you ever sought a stronger witness of the truth of the restored gospel and were left feeling confused at why it’s taking so long?
Causes Ahead of Christ
I wonder if President Oaks doesn’t provide us with one possibility in the same talk referenced above. He teaches:
“We live in a time when too many who purport to be Christians have a cause that comes ahead of Christ. For example, a national magazine recently reported an innovation by a new bishop of a prominent Christian church. Their ministers have always consecrated the emblems of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ in the name of the ‘Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’ However, in an effort to use what are called ‘nonsexist words,’ this new bishop has begun to consecrate the eucharist in the name of the ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.’ Such trendy and expedient tampering with the Christian faith is illustrative of the extent to which some are unwilling to witness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And then he added, almost thirty years ago now,
“Such deliberate deviations are not likely to be made by faithful Latter-day Saints. However, we need to be on guard against careless omissions and oversights in our personal testimonies, in our formal instruction, and in our worship and funeral services.”
(I don’t know that he would still offer that caveat in the same way today.)
While there may be instances when our Father withholds greater spiritual assurances as a way of testing (and stretching) our faith, might we sometimes be the cause of our own spiritual stagnation? Is there “a cause that comes ahead of Christ” for us and interferes with the greater light God would be willing to give us?
After all, Joseph’s early “causes” interfered with his own ability to obtain the plates. Perhaps greater witnesses can come to us as we prepare to live our covenants more exactly and share our witness with those around us.
Our “cause that comes ahead of Christ” might be ideological in nature, a belief we’re too fond of even though it conflicts with the restored gospel. It might be a sin to which we cling, unwilling to surrender our will to the Lord. It might simply be underdeveloped maturity as a disciple of the Savior. It might be something else. In any case, Elder Bruce R. McConkie told us,
“If all of the Latter-day Saints lived as they should, then Moses’ petition would be granted.”
Is this the case for you? Is there something about your life that keeps you from receiving greater light? Only you, with the Lord’s help, can answer that question, but take confidence in what the Lord told Moroni:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)
I’ve felt those kinds of whisperings, the Lord revealing those things I need to change, and I promise so too can you. As we approach the Lord with sincerity and real intent, He will show us what we should adjust in our lives and improve about our discipleship so we too may be “prophets.”
Like Joseph’s plates, there is not always a predestined timetable. As we qualify ourselves, the Lord is eager to bless us.
- “Thou Shalt Receive Revelation” -Elder Bruce R. McConkie, October 1978
- “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives” -President Russell M. Nelson, April 2018
- “Personal Revelation: The Teachings and Examples of the Prophets” -Elder Robert D. Hales, October 2007
You can follow Danny on Twitter @backfromthat.