Biblical Prophecies about the Book of Mormon
Latter-day Saints believe that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as an instrument in God’s hand for bringing his latter-day work to fruition was revealed to biblical prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel (cf. 1 Ne. 19:21). Their prophecies about these matters, like those about the coming of Jesus Christ, are better understood when some of the historical events that surround them are known.
Joseph’s Prophecy. Allusions are made to a branch that would be broken off in Jacob’s blessing to Joseph, promising that he would become a fruitful bough whose “branches” would run “over the wall” and that his posterity would be heir to divine blessings (Gen. 49:22—26; 1 Ne. 19:24; cf. Deut. 33:13—17). A further prophecy in the Book of Mormon aids in interpreting Genesis 49.
According to a prophecy of Joseph in Egypt, preserved in the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 3:4—21), two sets of records would be kept by two tribes of Israel—one (the Bible) written by the tribe of Judah and the other (Book of Mormon) kept by the tribe of Joseph (2 Ne. 3:12; cf. Ezek. 37:15—19). Those kept by the tribe of Joseph were written on plates of brass and largely parallel the biblical records (1 Ne. 5:10—16; 13:23). They were carried to a promised land in the Western Hemisphere by Lehi, a prophet and descendant of Joseph, who fled Jerusalem about 600 B.C. Lehi exclaimed, “Joseph truly saw our day. And he obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off” (2 Ne. 3:5).
Visit of Resurrected Jesus. A succession of prophets taught the gospel of Jesus Christ to Lehi’s “branch” of Joseph’s descendants and prophesied that after Jesus was resurrected, he would visit them (e.g., 2 Ne. 26:1). Regarding this circumstance, Jesus told his hearers in Palestine that he had “other sheep . . . which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). When he appeared in the Western Hemisphere (c. A.D. 34), he allowed the multitude to touch the wounds in his hands and side and feet so that they would understand the reality of his resurrection (3 Ne. 11:10—15). Later, he specifically referred to his words recorded in John’s gospel (3 Ne. 15:16—24; John 10:16), saying, “Ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold” (3 Ne. 15:21). Further, he taught them his gospel, called twelve disciples, announced the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, instituted the sacrament, and organized his church—causing them to become of one fold with his disciples in Palestine, having him as their common shepherd (3 Ne. 11—29).
Record from the Ground. Latter-day Saints teach that Isaiah foresaw that part of this branch of Joseph’s family would eventually be destroyed. He likened it to David’s city Ariel, that would also be destroyed when hostile forces “camp[ed] against” or laid siege to it (Isa. 29:3). But despite the fact that many of the people of this branch would be slain, both Isaiah and Nephi explained that the voice of Joseph’s descendants would be heard again as a voice “out of the ground”; their speech would “whisper out of the dust” (Isa. 29:4; 2 Ne. 26:16). For “the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead” (2 Ne. 27:13; cf. 26:15—16; see “Voice from the Dust”).
Perceiving how this would take place, Nephi1, the first writer in the Book of Mormon, wrote about 570 B.C. to unborn generations: “My beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust” (2 Ne. 33:13). Similarly, the last writer in the Book of Mormon, Moroni2, wrote about A.D. 400: “I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words” (Morm. 9:30; cf. Moro. 10:27). As he was about to bury the records, he wrote: “No one need say [the records] shall not come, for they surely shall, for the Lord hath spoken it; for out of the earth shall they come, by the hand of the Lord, and none can stay it” (Morm. 8:26; cf. TPJS, p. 98).
The phrase “out of the ground” is thus a metaphor for the voice of those who have died, but it also refers to records being buried in the earth until they come forth. The overall connection between Isaiah, chapter 29, and the Book of Mormon people is discussed in 2 Nephi, chapters 26—29 (cf. Morm. 8:23—26).
The Record Appears. Parts of the gold plates were sealed when Joseph Smith received them. Isaiah spoke of “the words of a book that is sealed” that would be delivered to a “learned” person (Isa. 29:11). Latter-day Saints see the role of the “learned” person fulfilled by Professor Charles Anthon of Columbia College (New York), and these “words of a book” constitute the Anthon Transcript. The book itself, however, would be delivered to another (Joseph Smith) who would simply acknowledge, “I am not learned” (Isa. 29:12), but would be divinely empowered to translate it.
Isaiah foresaw that when the book would appear, people would be contending over God’s word (Isa. 29:13). This circumstance would provide the context wherein God could perform his “marvelous work and a wonder,” causing the “wisdom of their wise men” to perish and the “understanding of their prudent men [to] be hid” while the meek would “increase their joy in the Lord” and the “poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 29:14, 19). Meanwhile, those who had “erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine” (Isa. 29:22—24; cf. 2 Ne. 27:6—26).
Two Records. Ezekiel also prophesied concerning the two records—that of Joseph or Ephraim (i.e., the Book of Mormon) and that of Judah (i.e., the Bible)—that would be joined in the last days as an instrument provided by the Lord to gather his people back to himself (Ezek. 37:15—22; cf. 2 Ne. 3:11—12).
For Latter-day Saints, when Ezekiel spoke of “sticks” (probably waxed writing boards), he was illustrating the instruments by which God would bring peoples together in the latter days, just as he used the concept of the Resurrection to illustrate the gathering of God’s people, which is the theme of chapters 34—37. Just as bodies are reconstituted in the Resurrection, so will Israel be reconstituted in the gathering; and the formerly divided nations will become one (Ezek. 37:1—14). Thus, the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 was a sign that the divided tribes of Israel were to become one under God and that God’s latter-day work was beginning to be implemented (Ezek. 37:21—28; cf. 1 Ne. 13:34—41; 3 Ne. 20:46—21:11).
McConkie, Bruce R. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp. 422—58. Salt Lake City, 1985. Meservy, Keith H. “Ezekiel’s Sticks and the Gathering of Israel.” Ensign 17 (Feb. 1987): 4—13. Robison, Parley Parker, comp. Orson Pratt’s Works on the Doctrines of the Gospel, pp. 269—84. Salt Lake City, 1945.
Keith H. Meservy