Symbolic Action as Prophecy in the Old Testament

Donald W. Parry

Parry, Donald W., “Symbolic Action as Prophecy in the Old Testament” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 337-355.

Donald W. Parry is professor of Hebrew Bible at Brigham Young University.

Ancient Israelite religion featured groups and individuals who expressed themselves with symbolic actions. For example, Moses and Joshua removed their shoes while standing upon holy ground (see Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15); Saul cut up two oxen and sent the pieces throughout Israel as a warning that individuals who failed to rally around the king would be similarly destroyed (see 1 Samuel 11:7); Solomon spread his hands toward heaven during the dedicatory prayer of the temple (see 1 Kings 8:22); Elijah divided the waters of the Jordan River by smiting them with his mantle (see 2 Kings 2:8); Elisha cast salt into a spring to heal its bitter waters (see 2 Kings 2:19–21); and Abraham took a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram and “divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another” (Genesis 15:10), after which he may have passed through the two parts (see Jeremiah 34:18). Several Old Testament prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Ahijah, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel used such symbolic actions to prophesy, without words, of future events.[1] Their unconventional action, gesture, movement, or posture of itself may not have had an immediate practical purpose but had symbolic meaning or metaphoric application. The future action was the typological fulfillment of the first, original action.

Although the symbolic actions of prophetic characters of the Old Testament occurred during various gospel dispensations, within different geographic locations, and under varying circumstances and contexts, there are commonalities among them. First, a prophet played a major role in the symbolic actions as prophecy. On one hand, it was common for the prophet himself to dramatize the prophecy, as was the case with Melchizedek breaking the bread and blessing the wine (see Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:17), Moses casting the tree into the bitter waters (see Exodus 15:22–25), or Jeremiah breaking the clay vessel (see Jeremiah 19). On the other hand, the prophet gave directions to or witnessed a second party who enacted the prophecy, as was the case with Jeremiah, who watched a potter create two vessels (see Jeremiah 18:1–12) and who caused several nations to drink from the wine cup of fury (see Jeremiah 25:15–29).

Second, the prophetic symbolic action originated from God. In most cases, the scriptural record sets forth in a straightforward manner that the prophets received direct revelation from God. Such a revelation was given in the texts with one of two common formulaic expressions or revelatory speech forms—the messenger formula and the revelation formula.[2] “Thus saith the Lord,” “For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me,” and “Thus saith the Lord God of Hosts” are variations of the messenger formula. The revelation formula features various expressions that indicate the prophet’s reception of God’s word, for example, “the word of the Lord came also unto me, saying,” “the Lord said unto the prophet,” “God . . . said unto him,” and so on. Generally recorded at the beginning of a new revelation, the formula introduces prophetic language; its primary purpose is to manifest the authority and origin of the revelation. Because the revelation originates with God and thus carries the authority of God through His prophet, the message (whether verbal or nonverbal) should therefore be accepted. Both the messenger and the revelation formulas “are indicative of prophetic authority and prerogative.”[3] The formulas demonstrate that the symbolic actions conducted by the prophets originate from Deity and did not stem from the imaginations of the prophets.

Third, prophetic symbolic actions include either a ritualistic gesture, a movement, a posture, or a dramatized act. For example, Joshua stretched a spear toward the city of Ai (see Joshua 8:18–19); Ahijah tore a new garment into twelve pieces (see 1 Kings 11:29–31); Isaiah wrote the name Mahershalalhashbaz upon a scroll and then united with his wife (see Isaiah 8:1–4); Jeremiah placed stones in a brick kiln (see Jeremiah 43:8–13); and Ezekiel ate a scroll (see Ezekiel 2:8–3:6).

Fourth, the dramatized action represents something other than what is visible to onlookers or participants. For example, the Lord instructed Ezekiel to perform a certain action, which in turn became a nonverbal prophecy. On one occasion, God told Ezekiel to shave his beard and to cut the hair of his head with a razor and a knife and divide the cut hair into three parts. Next God commanded, “Thou shalt burn with fire a third part [of the hair] in . . . the city, . . . and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind” (Ezekiel 5:2). The Lord interpreted these strange acts by drawing direct parallels between the three portions of Ezekiel’s cut hair and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “A third part of [the inhabitants of Jerusalem] shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee; and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds” (Ezekiel 5:12). Ezekiel’s symbolic prophetic actions were fulfilled when the Jews were scattered or destroyed—some were consumed by famine, others by the sword, and still others were scattered upon the face of the earth.

Other scriptural objects serve as symbols and representations: Jeremiah’s yoke signified bondage (see Jeremiah 27–28); Ezekiel’s journey from home symbolized an exile of Israel (see Ezekiel 12:1–16); Hosea and his wife represented Jehovah and unfaithful Israel respectively (see Hosea 1; 3:1–5); Ezekiel’s two sticks referred to the Bible and the Book of Mormon (see Ezekiel 37:15–28); Jeremiah’s book of evil represented the destruction that would come upon Babylon (see Jeremiah 51:58–64); and the serpent of brass pointed to Jesus Christ and His Atonement (see Numbers 21:6–9). On occasion, the prophet himself served as the symbol. Such was the case with Ezekiel, of whom the Lord explained, “For I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 12:6). Similarly, Isaiah stated, “I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 8:18). Many times the prophet’s explanation of the symbolic action is included alongside prophecy (see 1 Kings 11:29–31; Isaiah 20:1–6; Jeremiah 18:1–12; Ezekiel 4:9–17).

Fifth, prophetic symbolic actions often required the participation of two or more individuals, or, if there were no actual participants, the symbolic action may have been conducted in the presence of an audience. In at least two instances in the Old Testament, the symbolic action included participation of the prophet and one or more other individuals—Elisha and Joash together shot an arrow (see 2 Kings 13:14–19), and Zechariah and others participated in a symbolic coronation ceremony (see Zechariah 6:9–15). Other examples demonstrate audience observation. Ahijah ripped the garment as King Jeroboam looked on, and then Jeroboam received ten pieces of it (see 1 Kings 11:29–31); Ezekiel was not permitted to mourn the loss of his wife so that those who observed this act would inquire “wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou doest so?” (Ezekiel 24:19); Moses smote the rock from which water flowed “in the sight of the elders of Israel” (Exodus 17:6); Jeremiah was told to break a vessel “in the sight of the men that go with thee” (Jeremiah 19:10); he also hid stones in the clay of a brick kiln “in the sight of the men of Judah” (Jeremiah 43:9).

Finally, because nonverbal prophecies originated with God, therefore they have been or will be fulfilled, according to the prophetic word. Yet false prophets imitated true prophets even in making nonverbal prophecies. Two false prophets,[4] Zedekiah and Hananiah, attempted to imitate the actions of the true prophets of God when they created dramatizations that did not originate with God. Zedekiah made horns of iron and then prophesied that kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat would push (like the horns of a ram) the Syrians “until they be consumed” (2 Chronicles 18:10). Hananiah removed and broke a yoke that was upon the neck of Jeremiah, prophesying that God would break the yoke (bondage) of the kings who were subject to the governance of the king of Babylon. In doing so, Hananiah contradicted an earlier prophecy made by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 27–28). Both of the false prophets, counterfeiting the true prophetic word, used revelatory language as they introduced their symbolic actions by uttering the formula “thus saith the Lord” (1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 28:11).

Of course, the “prophecies” of neither “prophet” were fulfilled. Very little is known of the end of Zedekiah (see 1 Kings 22:24–25). The fate of Hananiah, however, was prophesied by Jeremiah: “Hear now, Hananiah; The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord. So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month” (Jeremiah 28:15–17).

Two themes constantly recur in the nonverbal prophecies—the theme of God’s judgment against an individual, community, or nation and the theme of the mission, attributes, goals, or atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Prophecies of God’s Judgment

A judgment of God or divine retribution is the “process of God’s meting out merited requital—punishment for evil or reward for good.”[5] For example, Isaiah was commanded by the Lord to “go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot” (Isaiah 20:2). The prophet obeyed the Lord’s command and walked for three years “naked and barefoot” (v. 2). The expression “naked and barefoot” may signify that Isaiah walked with no footgear nor clothing on the upper portion of his body. Such an action on the part of Isaiah gave him no practical or materialistic benefit; rather, the dramatization held a symbolic, prophetic message for those who beheld the prophet in such a state.

Isaiah explained his symbolic action. His walking “naked and barefoot three years” was for a “sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (Isaiah 20:3–4). Isaiah’s walking naked and barefoot was an unspoken prophecy, in the form of an action, that pointed to the time when the Egyptians and Ethiopians would be taken captive by the Assyrians, who would lead them away like slaves, without clothing or footgear. The prophecy was probably fulfilled in 667 B.C. when Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, crushed an Egyptian rebellion and forced his captives to march like slaves to Nineveh.[6] Although God does not act directly in the judgment upon the Egyptians and Ethiopians, His role in the scene is understood.

The judgment upon the Egyptians and Ethiopians is but one of many prophecies connected with divine retribution. Joshua’s stretching out of the spear toward the city of Ai spelled out an ominous judgment against the city, which was immediately fulfilled when the Israelites ambushed the city and “slew the men of Ai” (Joshua 8:21). An instance of judgment that was prophesied against a nation occurred when Jeremiah wrote in a book of the destruction that would come upon Babylon. Jeremiah afterwards tied the book to a rock and then tossed the book and the rock into the Euphrates River. His action signified impending judgment against Babylon, pointing to the time when Babylon would be destroyed (see Jeremiah 51:58–64). Other instances of heaven-sent judgments against groups are common in the dramatized acts of Ezekiel. He drew a picture of Jerusalem upon a tile (see Ezekiel 4:1–3); lay on his left and right side (4:4–8); baked bread that contained dung (4:9–17); trembled as he ate and drank (12:17–20); sighed, groaned, and beat his breast (21:6–7); and made sweeping movements with a sword (21:8–17). All such actions prophesied of impending doom, destruction, and hardship upon various groups in the region.

Prophecies Regarding Jesus Christ

Many prophetic symbolic actions look forward to a future event that has greater significance than does the original symbolic action. For instance, the binding and offering up of Isaac by Abraham on Mount Moriah anticipated the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. According to the book of Jacob, in this symbolic action Abraham represented Father in Heaven, and Isaac was an archetypal representation of Jesus. Abraham was “obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5). Abraham and Isaac were, of course, shadows when compared to Heavenly Father and His Son and their dramatized prophecy, a miniature model of the true and real moment when Jesus accomplished the Atonement.

In another example, Zechariah’s actions connected with the making of the crowns are replete with Christ-centered symbolism (see Zechariah 6:9–15). The scripture begins with the formula “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying” (Zechariah 6:9). Zechariah is commanded to “take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set [one] upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; and speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zechariah 6:11–13). Several symbols in this passage have Jesus as their referent. The name Jesus is associated with the Hebrew Joshua.[7] Joshua, the high priest, has reference to Jesus, the “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14; see also 3:1). The Branch identified in the passage is Jesus (see Jeremiah 23:5–6; Isaiah 11:1–5; Zechariah 3:8–10). The references to regalia—the crowns and the throne—and the statements regarding bearing the glory and sitting and ruling upon the throne point to Jesus as the “King of Zion” (Moses 7:53), “King of glory” (Psalm 24:7), and the “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). In addition, the duplicated reference to the temple speaks of the crowned and enthroned Jesus Christ. It is evident, then, that Zechariah’s participation in the coronation of Joshua, the high priest, prophesied of the future coronation of Jesus Christ.

Purpose of Nonverbal Prophecies

One obvious purpose of prophetic drama is that dramatic acts serve to pique the interest of the participants in the action, the audience of the action, or subsequent generations who would learn of the action. Drama is often much more interesting than the spoken word, for it appeals to both the ear and the eye. It is colorful, vivid, and three-dimensional. Dramatized action can be much more shocking than the spoken word—one prophet marries a harlot, and another one breaks a vessel while the public watches—causing the audience to pay great heed to the actions being performed. As with any theatrical production, symbolic actions tend to involve the audience, causing them to question the movements and postures and moving them to a higher plane of understanding. As with visual aids used in the classroom, the prophetic drama served to make the harsh message of judgment—or the sacred prophecy concerning Christ’s Atonement—both easier to understand and more memorable.


Understanding the environment and significance of symbolic actions in the Old Testament can aid Latter-day Saints in four ways. First, our religious tradition embraces a number of sacred ordinances, including baptism, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, administrations on behalf of the sick, ordinations, confirmations, and temple ordinances. Within this system of ordinances are numerous movements, gestures, and actions (for example, the laying on of the hands, burial in water, the anointing with consecrated oil) that coincide in an approximate manner with the sacral movements of religious individuals of the Old Testament. As we study the symbolic actions of the Old Testament, both those conducted by the prophets and those performed by the community of Israel in the temple and in their religious festivals, we may learn of the meaning and symbolism of sacred movement in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Second, a careful examination of the lesser-known dramatized actions of the Old Testament will increase our understanding of the more celebrated scriptures. For instance, we can now reread Ezekiel 37:15–28 (the sticks of Judah and Ephraim) and obtain new insights into why Ezekiel dramatized such an act, where he received his authority to do so, and in what manner the prophecy may be fulfilled.

Third, several of the nonverbal prophecies prefigure specific aspects of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Consider the lifting of the serpent of brass by the prophet Moses. As he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness on a pole, even so Jesus was lifted up on the cross. As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, those who look to Jesus on the cross will be lifted up into heaven. Again, as ancient Israel looked up at the serpent and were healed of the poison of the fiery serpents and thereby retained physical life, “even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal” (Helaman 8:15).

Finally, the individual daily actions, movement, and posture of each member of the Church prophesy in a real sense what will become of that individual in the eternities. Righteous actions prophesy of the opportunity to dwell with Heavenly Father in the eternal world; wicked actions prophesy of the possibility of living outside of the realm of Heavenly Father, both in this sphere of existence and in the eternities.

Table 1. Examples of Nonverbal Prophecies

Source: Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:17

Prophet: Melchizedek

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Bread and wine

Symbolic action: Melchizedek breaks bread and blesses wine

Prophecy: Looks forward to Christ’s Atonement, His broken body, and blood sacrifice

Source: Genesis 22

Prophet: Abraham

Revelation formula: “God . . . said unto him, Abraham” (Genesis 22:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Isaac

Symbolic action: Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac

Prophecy: Looks forward to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Jacob 4:5)

Source: Exodus 7:8–12

Prophet: Aaron

Revelation formula: “And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying” (Exodus 7:8)

Object or person used as a symbol: Rod

Symbolic action: Aaron casts down his rod, and it becomes a serpent

Prophecy: Points to the regal power and priesthood authority of Jesus

Source: Exodus 15:22–25

Prophet: Moses

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Tree and waters

Symbolic action: Moses throws a tree into waters of bitterness

Prophecy: The tree typifies and points forward to Jesus Christ, who is the Tree of Life

Source: Exodus 17:1–6

Prophet: Moses

Revelation formula: “And the Lord said unto Moses” (Exodus 17:5)

Object or person used as a symbol: Water, rock, and rod

Symbolic action: Moses smites a rock, and water gushes out

Prophecy: All three symbols—water, rock, and rod—point to Jesus

Source: Numbers 21:6–9

Prophet: Moses

Revelation formula: “And the Lord said unto Moses” (Numbers 21:8)

Object or person used as a symbol: Serpent of brass on a pole

Symbolic action: Moses lifts a brazen serpent in sight of Israel

Prophecy: The future lifting of Christ on the cross and the subsequent healing of believers (John 3:14–15; Helaman 8:14–15; Alma 33:19)

Source: Joshua 8:18–19

Prophet: Joshua

Revelation formula: “And the Lord said unto Joshua” (Joshua 8:18)

Object or person used as a symbol: Spear

Symbolic action: Joshua stretches the spear toward Ai

Prophecy: Joshua and his army will conquer the city

Source: 1 Kings 11:29–31

Prophet: Ahijah

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: New garment

Symbolic action: Ahijah rips the new garment into twelve pieces and gives ten pieces to Jeroboam

Prophecy: Jeroboam will soon take possession of the ten tribes as king

Source: 1 Kings 19:19–21

Prophet: Elijah

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Mantle

Symbolic action: Elijah casts his mantle upon Elisha

Prophecy: Elisha will succeed Elijah as prophet and wear the prophetic mantle

Source: 2 Kings 13:14–19

Prophet: Elisha

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Bow and arrow

Symbolic action: Elisha and Joash shoot an arrow

Prophecy: Joash will receive deliverance from Syria

Source: Isaiah 8:1–4

Prophet: Isaiah

Revelation formula: “The Lord said unto [Isaiah]” (Isaiah 8:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Mahershalalhashbaz

Symbolic action: Isaiah writes the name Mahershalalhashbaz upon a scroll, unites with his wife (theprophetess), and she bears a son, whom they name Mahershalalhashbaz

Prophecy: With Isaiah 7:14–16, prophesies of the birth of Jesus Christ

Source: Isaiah 20:1–6

Prophet: Isaiah

Revelation formula: “Spake the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying” (Isaiah 20:2)

Object or person used as a symbol: Isaiah

Symbolic action: Isaiah removes his clothes and walks naked like a slave

Prophecy: The Assyrians will take the Egyptians and Ethiopians captive and cause them to walk naked

Source: Jeremiah 13:1–10

Prophet: Jeremiah

Messenger/Revelation formula: “Thus saith the Lord unto me . . . And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying” (Jeremiah 13:1, 3)

Object or person used as a symbol: Linen girdle

Symbolic action: Jeremiah clothes himself with a linen girdle, removes the girdle, and then hides it in the hole of a rock

Prophecy: Just as the people of Judah were once whole like the linen girdle, so will they become marred and rotten like the girdle that was placed in the rock

Source: Jeremiah 16:1–12

Prophet: Jeremiah

Revelation formula: “The word of the Lord came also unto me, saying” (Jeremiah 16:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Jeremiah

Symbolic action: Jeremiah was commanded to refrain from marrying and having children and from feasting in a joyous manner

Prophecy: Israel will be destroyed and not enjoy familial relations, and they, like Jeremiah, will be unable to mourn for the loss of family life

Source: Jeremiah 18:1–12

Prophet: Jeremiah

Revelation formula: “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying” (Jeremiah 18:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Potter and his clay

Symbolic action: In the presence of Jeremiah, the potter creates two separate vessels—one marred and one pleasing in the eyes of the potter

Prophecy: God is the potter, and Israel is like clay in His hands. If they repent of their sins, they will become a good vessel; if they do not repent, they will become a marred vessel

Source: Jeremiah 19

Prophet: Jeremiah

Messenger formula: “Thus saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 19:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Potter’s vessel

Symbolic action: Jeremiah breaks the vessel in the presence of men at Tophet, near the east gate of Jerusalem

Prophecy: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury” (v. 11)

Source: Jeremiah 25:15–29

Prophet: Jeremiah

Messenger formula: “For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me” (Jeremiah 25:15)

Object or person used as a symbol: Cup

Symbolic action: God commands Jeremiah to cause many nations to drink from the wine cup of fury

Prophecy: Many nations will be destroyed by the sword

Source: Jeremiah 27–28

Prophet: Jeremiah

Revelation/Messenger formula: “Came this word unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Thus saith the Lord to me” (Jeremiah 1:1–2)

Object or person used as a symbol: Yoke

Symbolic action: Jeremiah makes yokes and bonds, places one around his neck (Jeremiah 27:2; 28:10), and sends the remaining yokes and bonds to neighboring kings

Prophecy: The kings and kingdoms who do not submit to the governance of Nebuchadnezzar will be destroyed

Source: Jeremiah 32

Prophet: Jeremiah

Revelation formula: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord” (Jeremiah 32:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: A field in Anathoth and an accompanying deed of land

Symbolic action: Jeremiah buys a field in Anathoth and accepts the deed of land

Prophecy: Although Israel is experiencing calamity and destruction, the time will come when they will once again enjoy prosperity and peace, such as buying and selling land

Source: Jeremiah 35

Prophet: Jeremiah

Revelation formula: “The word which came unto Jeremiah from the Lord” (Jeremiah 35:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Pots and cups of wine

Symbolic action: Jeremiah accompanies the Rechabites into the temple and offers them wine

Prophecy: The obedient Rechabites will remain (symbolically) in the temple forever; on the other hand, the disobedient men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem will be cursed

Source: Jeremiah 43:8–13

Prophet: Jeremiah

Revelation formula: “Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying” (Jeremiah 43:8)

Object or person used as a symbol: Great stones and brick kiln

Symbolic action: Jeremiah hides stones in a brick kiln near the entry to Pharaoh’s house

Prophecy: Nebuchadnezzer’s throne will be set upon rocks and will burn the houses of the gods of Egypt

Source: Jeremiah 51:58–64

Prophet: Jeremiah

Messenger formula: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 51:58)

Object or person used as a symbol: A book with a stone bound to it

Symbolic action: Jeremiah writes in a book the evil that will come upon Babyon; the book is tied to a stone and thrown into the Euphrates

Prophecy: Evil and destruction will come upon Babylon, and it will sink and not rise again

Source: Ezekiel 2:8–3:6

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee” (Ezekiel 2:8)

Object or person used as a symbol: Scroll

Symbolic action: Ezekiel eats the scroll

Prophecy: As the eaten scroll contains lamentations, mourning, and woe, so Ezekiel’s prophecies and revelations will consist of lamentations, mourning, and woe

Source: Ezekiel 4:1–3

Prophet: Ezekiel

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Clay tile

Symbolic action: Ezekiel places tile in front of him, draws a picture of Jerusalem on it, and creates details of a siege with mounds, a wall, battering rams, and camps

Prophecy: Jerusalem will be besieged by an army that will build mounds and use battering rams to break through the wall and take the city captive

Source: Ezekiel 4:4–8

Prophet: Ezekiel

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Ezekiel

Symbolic action: Ezekiel lies on his right and on his left side

Prophecy: Meaning uncertain

Source: Ezekiel 4:9–17

Prophet: Ezekiel

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Bread, water, and dung

Symbolic action: Ezekiel bakes bread with a mixture of dung, eats measured portions of it, and drinks measured portions of water

Prophecy: Israel will have to “eat bread by weight” and “drink water by measure” because God will make food and drink scarce. Also, Israel will “eat defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither [the Lord] will drive them” (Ezekiel 4:10–11, 13)

Source: Ezekiel 5

Prophet: Ezekiel

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Hair

Symbolic action: Ezekiel shaves the hair of his head and his beard, divides it into three parts, and then burns one-third, strikes one-third, and scatters one-third

Prophecy: One-third of Jerusalem’s inhabitants will be burned with fire and destroyed with pestilence, one-third will be smitten with the sword, and one-third will be scattered to the four winds

Source: Ezekiel 12:1–16

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “The word of the Lord also came unto me, saying” (Ezekiel 12:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Personal belongings of Ezekiel

Symbolic action: Ezekiel packs his bags and goes forth from his home

Prophecy: The children of Israel will pack their personal effects and be led away captive to Babylonia

Source: Ezekiel 12:17–20

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying” (Ezekiel 12:17)

Object or person used as a symbol: Food and drink

Symbolic action: Ezekiel trembles as he eats his food and drinks his drink

Prophecy: Israel’s land will be stripped of its produce, and the inhabitants of Israel will eat and drink with great trembling because of their fearful hearts

Source: Ezekiel 21:6–7

Prophet: Ezekiel

Prophetic speech formula: None

Object or person used as a symbol: Ezekiel

Symbolic action: Ezekiel sighs, groans, and beats his breast

Prophecy: Bad news is coming that will cause hearts to melt, hands to become feeble, spirits to faint, and knees to become weak as water

Source: Ezekiel 21:8–17

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying” (Ezekiel 21:8)

Object or person used as a symbol: Sword

Symbolic action: Ezekiel strikes his hands together (around the sword?) and then makes several movements with the sword, moving it to the right and left and so on

Prophecy: In every direction that Ezekiel points and slashes with the sword, so will the Lord cause slaughter and destruction upon the people

Source: Ezekiel 21:18–24

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying” (Ezekiel 21:18)

Object or person used as a symbol: Two roads

Symbolic action: Ezekiel marks out two roads and places a signpost where the two roads branch out

Prophecy: The king of Babylon will stand at the head of the two roads with his sword and choose through divination one of the two roads

Source: Ezekiel 24:15–24

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “Also the word of the Lord came unto me, saying” (Ezekiel 24:15)

Object or person used as a symbol: Wife of Ezekiel

Symbolic action: Ezekiel’s wife dies, and he does not mourn for her

Prophecy: Just as Ezekiel does not mourn the loss of his wife, even so the children of Israel will not be permitted to mourn the loss of their spouses and children whom they will lose during wars and tribulations

Source: Ezekiel 37:15–28

Prophet: Ezekiel

Revelation formula: “The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying” (Ezekiel 37:15)

Object or person used as a symbol: Two sticks or two pieces of wood

Symbolic action: Ezekiel takes two sticks, writes upon them, and then joins them together in one hand

Prophecy: The Bible and the Book of Mormon will come forth together for the use of humanity; the two scriptures will result in the union of the twelve tribes of Israel with Jesus Christ as their king

Source: Hosea 1:2–11

Prophet: Hosea

Revelation formula: “The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea” (Hosea 1:2)

Object or person used as a symbol: Hosea and Gomer, his wife of whoredoms, and their children

Symbolic action: Hosea marries Gomer, and they have three children

Prophecy: A prophecy that Israel (Jehovah’s wife) will commit whoredoms by departing from Jehovah (Hosea) and chasing after false deities (spiritual adultery). The children represent different aspects of the Lord’s relationship with Israel

Source: Hosea 3

Prophet: Hosea

Revelation formula: “Then said the Lord unto me” (Hosea 3:1)

Object or person used as a symbol: Hosea and Gomer

Symbolic action: Hosea is once more commanded to demonstrate love to his wife, the adulteress

Prophecy: As Hosea once more shows love for his wife, so the Lord will once more show love to Israel

Source: Zechariah 6:9–15

Prophet: Zechariah

Revelation formula: “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying” (Zechariah 6:9)

Object or person used as a symbol: Gold and silver crowns

Symbolic action: Zechariah makes crowns of silver and gold and sets them upon Joshua the high priest and others

Prophecy: The coronation of the Branch, who is Jesus Christ

Table 2. Examples of False Prophets’ Nonverbal Prophecies

Source: 1 Kings 22:11

False prophet: Zedekiah

Messenger formula: “Thus saith the Lord” (1 Kings 22:11)

Object or person used as a symbol: Iron horns

Symbolic action: Zedekiah makes iron horns

Prophecy: Prophesies (falsely) that kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat will conquer the Syrians

Source: Jeremiah 28:10–11

False prophet: Hananiah

Messenger formula: “Thus saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 28:11)

Object or person used as a symbol: Yoke

Symbolic action: Hananiah removes the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah and breaks it

Prophecy: Prophesies (falsely) that God will break the yoke of the kings from the captivity of King Nebuchadnezzer.


[1] Symbolic action as prophecy is but one legitimate type of prophecy in the scriptures. Other types of prophecy include single fulfillment (the prophecy has but one legitimate fulfillment or accomplishment), multiple fulfillment (the prophecy has more than one legitimate fulfillment or accomplishment), conditional (the prophecy is not absolute but contains a condition or stipulation), unconditional (no conditions are attached to the prophecy), and type (a symbol that looks forward in time and is attached to a typological meaning).

[2] See my article, “‘Thus Saith the Lord’: Prophetic Language in Samuel’s Speech,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1 (Fall 1992): 181–83.

[3] Parry, “‘Thus Saith the Lord,’” 183.

[4] Beyond the world of the Old Testament, wherein both true prophets of God and false prophets acted out prophecies, David E. Aune, in Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1983), 100, claims that pagans of the Greco-Roman world also possessed similar types of prophecy.

[5] Trent C. Butler, ed., Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Publishers, 1991), 373.

[6] John D. W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary, Isaiah 1–33 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985), 265.

[7] O. Odelain and R. Seguineau, Dictionary of Proper Names and Places in the Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 222.