How much emphasis is found in the writings of the Old Testament prophets on the subjects of the Restoration and the last days?
A great deal. In fact, the Old Testament is the only scriptural source for a number of latter-day prophecies. , director of college curriculum, Church Educational System.
As might be expected, most of these prophecies are found in what are commonly called the prophetic books—Isaiah through Malachi. Over half of the 250 chapters in these books deal in some way with the last days. For example, over 80 percent of Isaiah, the last 14 chapters of Ezekiel, nearly all of the book of Joel, much of Daniel, a large portion of the book of Zechariah, and parts of Hosea, Micah, and Zephaniah each deal with the last days.
Some of the prophecies are readily identifiable. Others, however, are more obscure, symbolic, or have applications in more than one time period, making a good background of gospel knowledge and a sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit essential to recognizing and understanding them. A knowledge of history, language, and customs is also helpful.
Entire books could be written to synthesize these prophecies. But following is a brief summary of major themes. They are not listed chronologically; some events are simultaneous or interrelated rather than sequential.
The restoration of the Church
3. The Lord’s messenger will prepare the way for his coming. (See Mal. 3:1.) This is an example of a prophecy with more than one fulfillment, including John the Baptist in the meridian of time and in the last days, as well as other latter-day servants who prepare for the Lord’s second advent. (See Matt. 11:10; JS—H 1:36; D&C 35:4; D&C 45:9; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3:10–12.)
4. Elijah will return before the Second Coming. (See Mal. 4:5–6.) Elijah appeared in the Kirtland Temple on 3 April 1836 and restored the keys of priesthood sealing powers. (See D&C 110:13–16; also see related sermon by Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, pp. 330, 335–38.)
Latter-day gathering of Israel
1. An ensign raised as a standard to the nations will bring about the gathering. (See Isa. 5:26–29; Isa. 10:20–23; Isa. 11:10, 12; Isa. 43:5–7; Isa. 49:22–23; Jer. 3:12–15; Jer. 16:16; Jer. 31:6–9; Ezek. 34:11–13.) This ensign is the gospel of salvation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which carries the gospel to the world. The Book of Mormon is also an ensign to the nations.
2. The house of Judah will be gathered to the land of their inheritance, the land of Jerusalem. (See Deut. 30:1–5; Ps. 147:2–3; Isa. 11:12; Jer. 3:18; Jer. 12:14–15; Jer. 30:3; Zech. 2:12; also Teachings, p. 286.)
3. The other tribes will also return to the lands of their inheritance. (See Ps. 50:1–5; Ps. 107:1–7; Isa. 11:11, 16; Isa. 43:6; Jer. 3:12, 18; Jer. 16:14–15; Jer. 23:3, 7–8; Ezek. 48.) They will return from the “north countries” to “be crowned with glory” under the hands of the “children of Ephraim” in Zion (see D&C 133:26–34), and will eventually go back to inhabit the lands of their original inheritance in Israel.
4. Gentiles will be gathered and numbered with the house of Israel. (See Isa. 11:10; Isa. 55:5; Isa. 56:6–8; Isa. 60:1–11; Mal. 1:11.) Those who are not naturally of the lineage of Israel are received into the house of Israel by adoption when they accept the gospel. They are then counted the same as if they had been born as literal seed of Israel. (See Abr. 2:8–11.)
5. When the tribes of Israel and Judah are gathered to their own lands, they will unite into one kingdom again and will no longer be two nations. In that condition they will enjoy great prosperity. (See Isa. 11:13; Jer. 3:18; Ezek. 28:24–26; Ezek. 37:21–22; Amos 9:14–15.)
6. Israel will be given “a new heart” and the Lord will reestablish his covenant with them. This will not be fulfilled totally until after the Lord’s return. (See Isa. 12:1–6; Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 11:17–20; Ezek. 37:21–28; Ezek. 39:23–29; Hosea 2:14–23; Hosea 3:4–5.)
Events related specifically to the house of Judah
1. Judah will return to Jerusalem and to the lands of their inheritance. (See Jer. 32:36–44; JST, Zech. 8:7–8; see also item 2 under “Latter-day gathering of Israel.”)
3. A temple will be built in Jerusalem before the Second Coming. (See Isa. 2:1–5; Ezek. 40–48; Micah 4:1–2.) Ezekiel gives a very detailed description of the temple and many of the services to be performed there.
4. Water will come from under the Jewish temple and will flow to the Dead Sea, causing it to become healed—sweetened, or made fresh. (See Ezek. 47:1–12; Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8.) Joseph Smith said this would take place before the Second Coming. (See Teachings, p. 286.)
7. The Lord will come to fight for Judah. He will stand upon the Mount of Olives, and by a great earthquake will preserve the Jews from destruction and will overthrow the opposing armies. (See Ezek. 38:18–23; Ezek. 39:1–7; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:9–17; Zech. 12:9; Zech. 14:2–9.)
9. Israel will burn materials from the destroyed army for seven years. The beasts of the field will participate in the “supper of the great God” (Rev. 19:17–18) and devour the carcasses of the slain (see Ezek. 39:4, 8–22).
10. The city of Jerusalem will be built up as a holy city never to be thrown down again. Many will see the Lord there. (See Isa. 60:13–14; Isa. 62:1–12; Isa. 65:18–19; Jer. 3:17; Jer. 33:10–11; Joel 3:18–21; Zech. 8:1–23; Zech. 14:16–21.)
1. The gentile nations will come to know the Lord’s power. He will fight against those who oppose his people. (See Isa. 14:1–4; Isa. 17:9–14; Isa. 49:24–26; Isa. 54:15, 17; Zech. 12:8–9; Zech. 14:3, 17–19.)
2. The nations of the world will be cast down. (See Dan. 2:44; Dan. 7:9–14; Jer. 46:28.) There are many examples in the Old Testament where judgments and destructions heaped upon wicked nations anciently may also be considered as types or foreshadowings of the destruction of wicked nations in the last days. (See Isa. 13:1–22; Jer. 25:15–38; Nahum 2:1–13; Zeph. 1:1–18.)
The Lord’s coming
1. An appearance at Adam-ondi-Ahman will precede the Lord’s coming in glory. (See Dan. 7:9–14, 21–22, 26–27.) This appearance will be at a great priesthood meeting at which the Lord’s leaders from all ages of the world will be assembled. Accounting will be made for stewardships and keys will be turned back to Christ, prior to his assuming his rightful position as Lord over the whole earth. (See Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1946, pp. 287–91; Teachings, pp. 122, 157–61, 167–68.)
2. The Lord will come suddenly to his temple. (See Hag. 2:6–9; Mal. 3:1.) This prophecy probably has a multiple fulfillment. The Lord already has come to his temple in this dispensation. (See D&C 110:1–10.) He will also appear in a temple in Jerusalem (see Hag. 2:6–9) and the New Jerusalem in America (see D&C 42:35–36.)
3. The Lord will appear as deliverer to the Jews before his appearance to the world. (See references under “Events related specifically to the house of Judah”; see also D&C 45:48–53.)
4. The Lord will descend in majesty and power as king over the earth. (See JST2 Ps. 24:7–10; Isa. 40:4–5, 10; Isa. 63:1–6; Isa. 66:15–16.) This is the great appearance in which all the world will see him together.
6. There will be great physical changes upon the earth in the last days and associated with the Second Coming. (See Ps. 18:6–9; Isa. 2:10, 19–21; Isa. 10:17–19; Isa. 13:9–13; Isa. 24:1–4, 6, 18–23; Isa. 40:4; Isa. 64:1–3; Joel 2:30–31; Joel 3:15–16; Micah 1:3–4, 6; Hag. 2:6.) At that time the earth will be made ready for the Millennial reign.
7. Christ will bring to pass the resurrection of the dead. (See Job 19:25–26; Isa. 25:8; Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37:1–14; Dan. 12:2; Hosea 13:14.) At the time of Christ’s coming, celestial souls will come forth. Afterward others will be resurrected in their proper order. (The reference to resurrection in Ezekiel 37 [Ezek. 37] may properly be interpreted to have application to the literal resurrection of the body as well as to the resurrection or renewal of Israel as the Lord’s people.)
Zion in the last days
2. Work for both the living and the dead will contribute to the building up of Zion. (See Isa. 42:6–7; Isa. 61:1; Obad. 1:21; Mal. 4:5–6.) Joseph Smith taught that baptisms for the dead fulfilled the words of Obadiah wherein he referred to saviors on Mount Zion. (See Teachings, p. 223.)
3. Zion will be established in the earth, and the world’s affairs will be administered from two great world capitals—Jerusalem in the land of Israel and the New Jerusalem in America. (See Isa. 2:2–3; Isa. 52:7–10; Micah 4:1–3.) See also Doctrines of Salvation, 3:66–71.
7. During the Millennium, the Lord’s Spirit will be poured out. Righteousness will prevail. Enmity, sorrow, and death will cease. The earth will be full of the knowledge of God, and all nations will bow before God and worship him. (See Isa. 2:4; Isa. 11:5–9; Isa. 12; Isa. 65:17–25; Jer. 31:34; Hosea 2:18; Joel 2:28–29; Micah 4:3–5; Hab. 2:14; Zeph. 3:9.)
Many other specific items about the last days can be learned by prayerfully studying the Lord’s word. President Harold B. Lee indicated that we do not need to go to any other source than the scriptures to be properly informed concerning the last days. (See Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 106.)
What did the Israelites do relating to genealogy, welfare, missionary work, and the family—the four major emphases of our day? What was religion for them?
As might be expected, each of the modern priesthood emphases had a counterpart in ancient Israel, but with differences in purpose and approach. Only the family, then as now the focal point of society, appears to have received the same emphasis it receives today. , instructor, Salt Lake Institute of Religion, University of Utah.
The Family. As head of the family, the father was not only charged with providing his family’s physical needs, but he was also its authority in matters of discipline and education. When Moses taught Israel the law and the commandments, he urged them to teach these things to their children: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deut. 6:7.) The Prophet Lehi, a resident of Palestine about 600 B.C., appears to have taken this admonition seriously. Nephi tells us that he was “taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.” (1 Ne. 1:1.)
Motherhood was also held in high esteem by the ancient Israelites. “Give me children, or else I die” were Rachel’s words to Jacob (Gen. 30:1); Samuel’s mother, Hannah, begged the Lord to remove her “affliction” and give her a child (see 1 Sam. 1:11). As a wife and mother, a Hebrew woman was accorded utmost respect by her husband and children.
Children were taught to “hear the instruction of thy father” and to “forsake not the law of thy mother.” (Prov. 1:8.) “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 20:12) was more than a commonplace saying in ancient Israel; it was a command.
Welfare. The poor were plentiful in ancient Israel. So were the generous and the greedy. Instituted early was a law commanding the wealthy to permit their fields to be gleaned by the poor, the widows, and the orphans. (See Lev. 19:9–10; Deut. 24:19–21.) “Relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,” Isaiah urged (Isa. 1:17), and Zechariah quotes the Lord as saying:
“Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:
“And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” (Zech. 7:8–10.)
Plainly, welfare, even in that day, was far more than merely providing food and shelter for the worthy poor.
Of course all who could work and sustain themselves were expected to do so. Honorable labor was considered a great virtue: “He that gathereth by labour shall increase” (Prov. 13:11); “In all labour there is profit” (Prov. 14:23). “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. (Prov. 10:4.) “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” (Eccl. 9:10.)
Staying free of debt and practicing thrift were likewise emphasized. If a man owed his neighbor, he was viewed as wicked if he did not meet his obligation. (See Ps. 27:21.) Likewise, the borrower was a servant—literally in bondage—to his creditor until the debt was retired. (See Prov. 22:7.) As for thrift, Isaiah urged the people not to “spend money for that which is not bread … and your labor for that which satisfieth not.” (Isa. 55:2.) Time is valuable, he seems to be saying, and should be guarded in the same way that money is protected.
In spite of these emphases, ancient Israel had its share of welfare problems. One means of providing for those in need was the law of the fast: those who had substance would fast for a time and give the food saved or its equivalent to the poor and needy in their midst. “Is not this the fast that I have chosen?” the Lord asks, “… to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isa. 58:6–7.) The reference to one’s “own flesh” is likely a reminder of the obligation each has to help provide for those of his own family, whether aged parents or little children.
Students of the Old Testament are familiar with the work of Joseph in Egypt, storing in a time of plenty against a day of need. (See Gen. 41:34–36, 49.) Also well known is the admonition of the Lord to bring “all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house.” (Mal. 3:10.)
Missionary Work. Little emphasis was given in ancient Israel to the spreading of the truth to foreign lands—missionary work consisted mainly of preaching to apostate Israel, who demonstrated by their behavior that they were not ready to take the gospel to others on a large scale. As a matter of fact, even though God’s covenant with Father Abraham enjoined the task of blessing “all the families of the earth … with the blessings of the Gospel” (Abr. 2:11), Israel chose to remain somewhat aloof from non-Israelites. Part of this aloofness was due to necessity: whenever Israel mingled with her foreign neighbors, she was quick to intermarry with them and adopt their evil ways. Thus, the Lord commanded that Israel should never make a covenant with or marry the people of foreign nations. (See Deut. 7:2–3.)
It is difficult to spread the word of God when one is forbidden to mingle with potential converts. Still there were exceptions. When Naomi and Elimelech went to live in Moab because of the famine in Bethlehem, their two sons married Moabite girls. At least one of those girls joined the Hebrew way of life: “Thy people shall be my people,” Ruth told Naomi, “and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16.) Naomi and her family had obviously done some missionary work, for Ruth’s conversion was thorough and complete. There were probably other similar, individual conversions, accomplished by righteous individuals sharing their faith, but we have no record of them.
That the Lord intended Israel to show the way of truth unto the world is obvious from several Old Testament passages, but no overt attempt appears to have been made to proselyte non-Israelites except in the case of the Prophet Jonah. Rather, the prophets of Israel foresaw the conversion of the Gentile nations at a future time. Isaiah prophesied of a day in which the Gentiles would seek the “ensign” of Israel (Isa. 11:10), and a day in which God’s glory would be declared “among the Gentiles” (Isa. 66:19). Malachi likewise foresaw the day when God’s name would “be great among the Gentiles.” (Mal. 1:11.)
Genealogy and Temple Work. The ancient Israelites built temples and performed sacred ordinances therein. It is certain, however, that baptisms for the dead were not performed in Old Testament times. President Joseph Fielding Smith has said: “Christ was the first to declare the gospel to the dead, and it was not until after his resurrection that the privilege of baptism for the dead was granted.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:114.)
Even so, genealogical activity and record keeping were serious matters for ancient Israelites. “All Israel were reckoned by genealogies; and, behold, they were written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.” (1 Cor. 9:1.) Among those whose genealogy was strictly kept were the ancient priests, members of the tribe of Levi and of the house of Aaron. Only the firstborn sons of Aaron were given the right of presidency, and only priests and Levites could perform the sacrificial ordinances in behalf of the people. It was necessary, then, to know who such persons were.
Malachi, of course, spoke of Elijah’s coming to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers,” lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse. (Mal. 4:6.) Malachi undoubtedly understood his own proclamation in the same way that we do, for he also spoke of those who, in the end, will be left with “neither root nor branch.” (Mal. 4:1.) When one is neither sealed to his forefathers nor his posterity, this is precisely his condition: he has neither root nor branch.
Record keeping was a permanent part of Israel’s life-style. Beginning with Adam who kept a book of remembrance (see Moses 6:5), we find men keeping an account of their own life and times (see Moses 6:46; Abr. 1:31). Later, we find certain men specifically assigned as record keepers. David, for example, “appointed certain of the Levites” the task of keeping Israel’s records. (1 Chr. 16:4.) Later still, professional scribes were employed to write and interpret that which had been written. Ezra, writer of the book which bears his name, was one of these. (See Ezra 7:11.)
Of particular interest in early Israel was the keeping of a family genealogy. Lengthy genealogical lists are found throughout the Old Testament, but following their return from captivity the Jews pursued the task even more earnestly. Ezra presents a detailed account of Israel by family. (See Ezra 2; Ezra 8; also Neh. 7:5–64.) He also makes particular mention of “the book of the records of thy fathers” (Ezra 4:15), which reminds us in turn of Abraham’s statement that he had preserved in his own hands “the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood” and that his own efforts in writing were “for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me” (Abr. 1:31).
It is plain, then, that at least family, welfare, and genealogy work were important parts of ancient Israel’s religion, as they are today.
Pure religion, of course, is a matter of the heart. Moses taught the people in his day to “love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut. 6:5.)
The writer of Proverbs similarly enjoined:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5–6.)
Loving the Lord and obeying him, then as now, are the best indications of one’s religion.
What were the false ideologies, values, and practices that tempted Israel during the Old Testament period?
I think we don’t appreciate enough the hard mission the prophets of Israel had: to keep Israel in remembrance of their covenant and calling. The Israelites were to teach about God and his ways—not to be taught by the cults of idol gods. However, they had a hard time resisting the pressures and enticing aberrations of the peoples among whom they lived, and they had difficulty remaining true to their unseen God, even though they had seen many manifestations of his benevolence and graciousness. , former dean of Religious Instruction, Brigham Young University.
I recall my surprise when visiting ancient pagan temples and tombs to discover the dominant “blessings” for which the idol worshippers repeatedly supplicated their gods: immortality, reproduction of life, and fertility for flocks, herds, and farms. These blessings were petitioned in carnal and sensual rituals which appealed to the Israelites’ natural appetites, in contrast to the austere moral and spiritually motivated codes of behavior asked by Israel’s God for the same blessings. The Canaanites had gods and goddesses in abundance. These gods supposedly brought the rainfall, caused fields and flocks to be productive, blessed commerce, and protected cities. They were thought to control seasonal cycles, death and birth—every function of nature. Hence, it was concluded that man could influence nature by worshipping the right god or goddess for each need. Of course, sacrifices were required, even the sacrifice of children.
Scholars have discovered through years of archaeological research and translation of ancient documents that there was extensive communication among ancient peoples—a broad sharing of religious concepts and worship practices and a wide awareness of the names and functions of idol gods. It is not surprising, then, that many people in Israel turned occasionally to one or another of the local deities.
The most common idol gods were Baal and his consort Ashtaroth. The goddess Ashtaroth, known in the Middle East also as Astart, Ishtar, Athtar, and Atar, and called the “queen of heaven,” was the most widely worshipped goddess of fertility among the Canaanites, the Babylonians, the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon, the Syrians, and others. The mistress of mysterious powers of reproduction, she was “worshipped” by ritualized sexual indulgence. These practices were often a sensual temptation to the Israelites.
Ashtaroth’s son (in some cases, husband), Tammuz, the god of vegetation, controlled the annual cycle of the seasons. The myth of Tammuz tells the story of the goddess Ashtaroth (Ishtar) going into the underworld during autumn to bring Tammuz back from the place of the dead to restore life again in the spring. We read of the people of Israel weeping for Tammuz as part of an autumnal ritual in some of the prophetic books of the Bible.
Calves and bulls were also objects of adoration or worship. Sometimes they bore the gods of fertility; sometimes they were symbols of reproduction. The god Chemosh of Moab was among the idols installed at times in Jerusalem, sometimes for political reasons. Dagon, the god of the Philistine cities of Gaza and Ashdod, was either a fish god or a grain god and is encountered several times in the Bible.
Perhaps the most dread deity to whom the children of Israel surprisingly turned at times was Molech, variously called Moloch, Melech, and Milcolm. His name means “the King.” It was to him that children were sacrificed by fire, even by some Israelite kings: they caused “their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech.” Such things, Jeremiah the prophet said, the Lord never did require of Israel. (See Jer. 32:35; also Jer. 7:31.) Why would Israel turn from the gracious benevolence of Jehovah to such a dread deity? No doubt it was for urgent economic, social, and political reasons.
The sun and constellations of stars were attributed powers of productivity and security. In hot, dry lands, the mysterious, pale, cool light of the moon was another object of adoration; the phases of the moon marked phases of life and biological and agricultural functions.
The Teraphim, household gods mentioned frequently in the Bible, appear to have been symbols of land ownership. They were also appealed to for divination or consultation in times of need or trouble.
Some trees, plants, and shrubs were worshipped. The tamarisk, in particular, whose Hebrew name ‘eshel is frequently translated in the Bible as “grove,” was looked upon as a holy plant that could bring about benevolent effects upon other vegetation. Trees such as the terebinth, the teil tree, and the oak were considered especially sacred, probably because they gave shade and shelter and manifested powers of long life.
There were also gods of destiny, of fortune, of the storm, of the desert, and indeed of all functions and faculties of man and nature. (For additional items and sources of information, see the “Bible Dictionary” in the appendix of the new LDS edition of the Bible, under the names of the various idols mentioned in the scriptures. Turn also to the topical guide in the Bible for lists of scriptural references to idols, practices, or particular abominations which the prophets condemned.)
The problems of moving from slavery to freedom, from nomadism to settled agriculture, from rural life to city life, and from a national scope to international status brought an ever-increasing need for divine aid and intervention. But the prophets constantly faced the problem of how to convince people to trust in Jehovah instead of turning to fertility charms, good luck amulets, and idols with mystical powers. It was difficult to convince many that devotion to Jehovah and lives of moral, social, and spiritual righteousness was the only true path to security and success.