Introduction

By Monte S. Nyman

Introduction, in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 1–10.

Introduction: Search the Prophets

Monte S. Nyman

A symposium on Isaiah and the prophets was a fitting occasion for the year 1982, since the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine classes were studying these ancient prophets that year and the membership of the Church had been excited to a curiosity about the lives and teachings of these great men. These men were great, not only because they were prophets, but also because they served in a unique time and situation. They lived in a time when the gospel in its fullness and the Melchizedek Priesthood had been taken from the children of Israel because “they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God” (Mosiah 13:29). Their unique situation was that the law of Moses, which was “a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:30), had been added to the gospel. These men demonstrated their greatness by rising above these obstacles and preparing themselves to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood so that they might better serve the people. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that they all were given this higher priesthood:

Was the Priesthood of Melchizedek taken away when Moses died? All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. [1]

Then the Prophet added parenthetically, “All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.” [2] This implies that these men did receive that further portion of the priesthood which enabled them to see God face to face. This is also verified by their own testimonies, as is further confirmed by many of the papers in this volume.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that these ancient prophets “were ordained by God himself.” They were also foreordained. God foreordained these noble and great men to come forth when they did that they might fulfill a specific mission to the peoples of their time. This, of course, is confirmed by the Lord’s statement to Jeremiah in the beginning of that choice record: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This is also suggested in the calls given to other prophets, such as Amos (see Amos 7:14–15) and Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 2:1–3:11). It was undoubtedly true of all the prophets. The statement that God himself ordained these men needs some clarification. Since a priesthood ordination is an earthly ordinance, the Old Testament prophets were undoubtedly also ordained by a mortal representative of God upon the earth. This conclusion is drawn from the fact that Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery and Oliver ordained Joseph after John the Baptist had conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them (Joseph Smith—History 1:68–72). However, before their earthly ordination the ancient prophets were personally selected or designated by God for this sacred privilege of holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, having lived up to their premortal foreordinations. Since all who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood at any time are foreordained (see Alma 13:1–5), this observation may not seem too significant; however, when one considers the worthiness of these men to be called despite the stiffnecked condition of the children of Israel at that time, their ordination becomes a great compliment to their dedication.

A symposium on these prophets should be significant for several reasons. First of all, their writings were major sources which Jesus and the Apostles used in teaching the gospel in the meridian of time. There are at least forty-two passages that can assuredly be identified as Isaiah’s writings quoted in the New Testament. There are also twenty-seven passages from the prophet Jeremiah which can be positively identified, and there are many other passages from the other prophets likewise quoted. How many more passages were included before the many “plain and precious parts” were taken away (see 1 Nephi 13:26–35) can only be left to speculation, but there obviously were some, as shown by Matthew 27:9 and Helaman 8:18–20.

Another reason for such a symposium is that the Book of Mormon prophets quoted extensively from these Old Testament prophets. At least 425 verses from Isaiah are quoted in the Book of Mormon, not counting repetitions. At least nine verses from the prophet Micah are quoted by the Savior himself, several more than once. There are only three references to Jeremiah in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 5:13; 7:14; Helaman 8:20), but these are all significant in authenticating Jeremiah’s works. It should be noted that because many of the Old Testament prophets (including Jeremiah, whose ministry overlapped Lehi’s) lived and testified after Lehi left Jerusalem, they were not quoted in the Book of Mormon. There is one exception. Although Malachi lived after Lehi left, the Father commanded Jesus to quote the entire third and fourth chapters of his prophecies as he ministered to the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 24, 25). On the other hand, Nephite prophets quoted many other passages from the plates of brass which restore plain and precious parts that had been lost from the record of the Jews (see 1 Nephi 19:10–17; 22:15–17; Jacob 5; Alma 33:3–11).

A third reason for studying the Old Testament prophets is that their writings are being fulfilled in our day. As the Savior ministered among the Nephites, he made this informative declaration:

Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses.

Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end.

Behold, I do not destroy the prophets, for as many as have not been fulfilled in me, verily I say unto you, shall all be fulfilled.

And because I said unto you that old things have passed away, I do not destroy that which hath been spoken concerning things which are to come.

For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.

Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life. (3 Nephi 15:4–9)

Since this statement was made following the Savior’s ministry among the Jews, and because there was a long period of apostasy following his ministry and that of his chosen Apostles in Jerusalem, it is logical that the Old Testament prophecies were directed to the Restoration in the latter days. This is explained by the Prophet Joseph Smith:

The time has at last arrived when the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has set his hand again the second time to recover the remnants of his people, which have been left from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea, and with them to bring in the fulness of the Gentiles, and establish that covenant with them, which was promised when their sins should be taken away. See Isaiah 11; Romans 11:25, 26, and 27, and also Jeremiah 31:31, 32, and 33. This covenant has never been established with the house of Israel, nor with the house of Judah, for it requires two parties to make a covenant, and those two parties must be agreed, or no covenant can be made.

Christ, in the days of His flesh, proposed to make a covenant with them, but they rejected Him and His proposals, and in consequence thereof, they were broken off, and no covenant was made with them at that time. But their unbelief has not rendered the promise of God of none effect: no, for there was another day limited in David, which was the day of His power; and then His people, Israel, should be a willing people;—and He would write His law in their hearts, and print it in their thoughts; their sins and their iniquities He would remember no more.

Thus after this chosen family had rejected Christ and His proposals, the heralds of salvation said to them, “Lo we turn unto the Gentiles”; and the Gentiles received the covenant, and were grafted in from whence the chosen family were broken off; but the Gentiles have not continued in the goodness of God, but have departed from the faith that was once delivered to the Saints, and have broken the covenant in which their fathers were established (see Isaiah 24:5); and have become highminded, and have not feared; therefore, but few of them will be gathered with the chosen family. Have not the pride, highmindedness, and unbelief of the Gentiles, provoked the Holy One of Israel to withdraw His Holy Spirit from them, and send forth His judgments to scourge them for their wickedness? This is certainly the case. [3]

The Savior also taught that when the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled, then the covenant which the Father had made unto the house of Israel would be fulfilled (see 3 Nephi 16:11, 17; 20:11–12). This covenant was originally made with Abraham and passed on through Isaac and through Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. That the covenant of Abraham, being fulfilled today through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is confirmed repeatedly in the Doctrine and Covenants (see 103:17; 124:58; 132:30–32).

A fourth reason for holding a symposium on Isaiah and the prophets is the most important one: by doing so, we obey the Savior’s commandment to search these prophecies. To the Nephites, he said:

And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.

For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.

And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake. (3 Nephi 23:1–3)

As Isaiah is the only book in the Bible that the Savior singled out and commanded his people to search, we have designated this symposium “Isaiah and the Prophets.” One of the major reasons for our searching the book of Isaiah is that we may study the testimony which it bears of Jesus Christ. Nephi quoted Isaiah that he “might more fully persuade them [his people] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer” (1 Nephi 19:23). Of the 425 separate verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, 391 or 92 percent of those verses say something about Christ. This illustrates the importance of the message of Isaiah. That Isaiah’s teachings concerning the house of Israel and the Gentiles refer to these latter days is confirmed by the Savior’s commentaries on the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon, and by the articles appearing in this volume. That “all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake,” was substantiated by the Jewish historian Josephus:

He was, by the confession of all, a divine and wonderful man in speaking truth; and out of the assurance that he had never written what was false, he wrote down all his prophecies, and left them behind him in books, that their accomplishment might be judged of from the events by posterity. [4]

Despite this emphasis on Isaiah, a study of his writings alone is insufficient. The Savior extended his commandment to search Isaiah to include the rest of the prophets: “Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things” (3 Nephi 23:5). Such a search will furnish a second witness to Isaiah’s great teachings concerning the house of Israel. Several of these supporting prophets are discussed in chapters of this book.

Many of the prophets ministered around the time of the captivity of the ten and one-half tribes of Israel by the Assyrians. This period of approximately fifty years (750–700 BC) was the time of the prophet Isaiah. Micah, Hosea, and Amos were other contemporary witnesses against the wickedness and evil practices which led to the destruction and captivity of this northern nation of Palestine. Joel and Jonah may also have prophesied during this period, but the dating of their work is much more controversial. All of these prophets carry a message which confirms what Isaiah had declared. Micah warns of the Lamanites’ treading down the Gentiles who do not repent in the latter days. Hosea foretells the latter-day gathering of the house of Israel in the context of strange marriages and gives special emphasis to Ephraim. After chastising the children of Israel for their social sins, Amos predicts the latter-day famine of the Lord’s word and the restoration of those who have been sifted as corn among all the nations of the earth. Joel speaks of the Spirit being poured out upon all flesh (which prophecy the angel Moroni said in 1823 was soon to be fulfilled), and also describes the Gentiles gathered together against the Jews in the valley of decision. Jonah’s great message of God’s love for all mankind is certainly applicable to us in this day of strife.

The next time period of the prophets is that of the captivity of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, when many Jews were carried into exile in Babylon (607 BC is the traditional biblical dating). Ezekiel and Daniel were the two prophets raised up to guide the captive Jews while they were separated from their homeland. Included in Ezekiel’s extensive visions was the restoration of the two nations of the house of Israel, Judah and Ephraim (or Northern Israel), to one fold under one shepherd through the combining of the Book of Mormon and the Bible. He also foresaw many other aspects of the Restoration, as well as the great battle of Gog and Magog in the last days. Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which showed the kingdom of God being set up in the latter days and being prepared and presented to the Son of Man by Adam, the Ancient of Days. The Latter-day Saints know that this great event will take place in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Before and after the Jewish exiles were taken away, there were prophets throughout the land of Judah warning the people of the oncoming invasion of Babylon. Foremost among these prophets was the oft-persecuted Jeremiah. His life is a prime example of the Savior’s declaration in the Sermon on the Mount that “so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:12). Jeremiah’s “many prophecies,” so labeled by Nephi, included several that are being fulfilled in our day. The Lord is taking “one of a city, and two of a family,” and bringing them to Zion (Jeremiah 3:14). He is also sending forth many fishers and many hunters to accomplish a greater gathering than when the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt (see Jeremiah 16:14–16). The new covenant has been made with the house of Israel and will undoubtedly soon be made with the house of Judah, as Jeremiah prophesied (see Jeremiah 31:31–34). The prophets Habakkuk, Obadiah, and Zephaniah were also prophesying at this same time (approximately 630–580 BC). Although Obadiah’s writings are not lengthy, to him is ascribed the well-known prophecy that “saviours shall come up on mount Zion” (Obadiah 1:21). One turns to Zephaniah to learn of events preceding the Second Coming of the Lord and the return of a pure language to the people of the Lord (see Zephaniah 3:1–9).

The scriptures are silent for a brief time, until the decree of Cyrus allows the Jews to return to their beloved homeland (538 BC is the traditional date of the decree). Then the Lord raises up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to inspire the people to rebuild Jerusalem and the holy temple. While Haggai’s message is basically to inspire his people to build the temple, he does speak of the coming of the mortal Messiah as “the desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7). Such is not the case with Zechariah; his message extends to both comings of Jesus Christ and graphically predicts the Messiah’s appearance to the Jews when all nations are gathered against the latter-day nation of Judah (see Zechariah 12:9–10; 13:6; 14:1–9). This prophecy is reiterated in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 45:48–53). The last of the prophets comes to us again after a long period of no writings (some one hundred years, about 400 BC). Malachi, however, does not leave us wanting for prophecies about the latter days. Latter-day Saints are thrilled with his prophetic utterances of the messenger of the covenant to precede the Lord’s coming in judgment upon the world, of his promise and warnings to latter-day Israel regarding the payment of tithes and offerings, and of the necessity of the coming of Elijah (which the Saints announce has been fulfilled). His writings also contain other choice items for those who will search the prophets.

Many people are reluctant to read the Old Testament because of its length and because they do not know the history and the background of the peoples. Perhaps a few facts will allay their fears. In the new LDS edition of the Bible, there are 1184 pages in the Old Testament; 860 of these pages precede the writings of the prophets. This leaves 324 pages from Isaiah to Malachi; but, because these include many footnotes and cross-references, there are even fewer pages of actual text to read. This may not seem significant until it is realized that there are more pages in the New Testament, 403, than in the Old Testament prophets. That is, there are 79 fewer pages in the writings of these prophets than in the New Testament, making the prophets’ writings only 80 percent as voluminous as the New Testament. Furthermore, although Isaiah and his contemporaries began their work around 750 BC, the actual time covered by their writings is quite short. Two major time periods of only fifty years each include all the prophets’ writing except the last three included in the present-day Bible. It does not seem too great a task to become acquainted with the historical and cultural background of these two brief time periods. This task should be enhanced by a knowledge of the great rewards that will result from such a study.

These two time periods should be of special interest to Latter-day Saints because of their relevance to us as a people. The first, the time preceding and following the capture of the ten tribes, is the history of our ancestors. Ephraim is the birthright tribe and therefore the spiritual leader of the house of Israel. After the division of Israel into two nations, following the reign of Solomon, the Northern Kingdom was known by the name of Ephraim. As the ten tribes were taken into the north, Ephraim particularly was scattered among the nations of the earth. Today Ephraim is being gathered out. Thus, a study of this time period is a study of our people.

The second time period is of equal importance. During that fifty-year period, the prophet Lehi was called out of Jerusalem; he and his partner in travel, Ishmael, represented both tribes of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, unto whom this great land of the Americas was given (see 3 Nephi 15:12–13). The land from which they left and the land to which they traveled constitute the two lands of promise where the house of Israel will be gathered. Learning the background of Palestine acquaints one with the prophecies regarding the future gathering to that land. The Old Testament prophets also uttered many prophecies regarding Zion, the other land of gathering. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that Zion included the entire American continent:

You know there has been great discussion in relation to Zion—where it is, and where the gathering of the dispensation is, and which I am now going to tell you. The prophets have spoken and written upon it; but I will make a proclamation that will cover a broader ground. The whole of America is Zion itself from north to south, and is described by the Prophets, who declare that it is the Zion where the mountain of the Lord should be, and that it should be in the center of the land. When Elders shall take up and examine the old prophecies in the Bible, they will see it. [5]

Thus the second time period should also hold a special interest for us in the latter days.

The other brief time periods covered by the writings of the last three prophets in the Bible may not be as significant to our day historically, but these writings certainly do contain prophecies of latter-day events which are doctrinally significant to us.

If we will keep the commandment to search the prophecies of Isaiah and these other prophets, we will agree with the pronouncement of Jesus that “great are the words of Isaiah” and that “many there be that testify of these things” (3 Nephi 23:1–5).

Notes

[1] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 180–81.

[2] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181.

[3] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 14–15.

[4] Flavius Josephus, Josephus: Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1972), Antiquities of the Jews 10.2.2.

[5] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 362.