Training from the Old Testament: Moroni’s Lessons for a Prophet


Latter-day Saints have a divine commission to further the restoration of the house of Israel.

Training from the Old Testament:

One hundred seventy-five years ago the Lord sent the angel Moroni to the boy prophet Joseph Smith to further prepare his heart and mind for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. Within a 24-hour period on 21–22 September 1823, Moroni appeared five times to Joseph (see JS—H 1:29–53). It was the fall equinox; a new season was about to begin on the earth and in Joseph’s life. Moroni’s instruction on the Hill Cumorah was for Joseph to return the following year to receive “intelligence … respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days” (JS—H 1:54). Their meetings continued for the next four years. Moroni’s guidance and teachings during Joseph’s teenage years were profound. As a result, Joseph never doubted his experiences or flinched in his resolve the rest of his life despite obstacles and intense opposition.

Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith had never raised a prophet. They did not know the future, nor could they have known the trials and persecution that were coming to their family and to the Church their son would help restore. So the Lord sent Moroni to tutor and help prepare the 17-year-old Joseph for his mission. 1 What parents would not be thrilled to learn that an angel was working with their teenage son to prepare him for a mission?

Joseph Smith said that Moroni “called me by name, and said … that God had a work for me to do. … After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament” (JS—H 1:33, 36). We might ask, why would Moroni begin Joseph’s training with prophecies from the Old Testament? What is in the Old Testament that could prepare a young person to bear the responsibility encompassed in the Restoration?

Old Testament Relevancy

In many respects, the Old Testament is a blueprint of the events of the latter days. Moroni liberally quoted from it and taught Joseph what the ancient prophets had foreseen about the Restoration. “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age,” the Prophet Joseph later declared. “It is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; … we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, the ‘dispensation of the fulness of times, when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth.’” 2

In his official history, Joseph did not list all of the chapters and verses of the various scriptures quoted by Moroni, but he did list five: part of Malachi 3; Malachi 4; Isaiah 11; Acts 3:22–23; and Joel 2:28–32 (see JS—H 1:36–41 [Mal. 3; Mal. 4; Isa. 11]). He added that Moroni also “quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations” (JS—H 1:41; emphasis added).

Why would these particular Old Testament passages be important for Joseph Smith to understand?

Malachi 3–4 [Mal. 3–4]

Joseph indicated that Moroni began his instructions by quoting “part of the third chapter of Malachi; and … also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy”(JS—H 1:36).

Malachi 3 begins, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (Mal. 3:1). This prophecy has dual application. The Lord said it first had reference to John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Savior’s first appearance (see Matt. 11:10) and who also was the first angelic messenger to bestow priesthood keys and authority in our dispensation, preparing the way for the Savior’s Second Coming (see D&C 13).

The second part of Malachi’s prophecy has reference to, among other things, another forerunner, a latter-day messenger who was called to prepare the way so that “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1). The Prophet Joseph Smith is the latter-day forerunner who prepared the way for the building of temples and the restoration of temple ordinances. The first building the Prophet Joseph Smith dedicated cornerstones for was the temple in Independence, Missouri, on 3 August 1831. He later dedicated the Kirtland Temple on 27 March 1836. The messengers Malachi foresaw have been sent, and the Lord’s work is under way. The ordinances performed today in temples throughout the world are preparing families, both on this side of the veil and in the spirit world, for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Malachi prophesied that at the time of the Lord’s appearance, the sons of Levi would be purified “that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal. 3:2–3). The Prophet Joseph explained that purified priesthood bearers will officiate in the temples in righteousness in two ways: (1) by performing temple ordinances in behalf of the dead (see D&C 128:24), and (2) when the Levites offer an acceptable blood sacrifice as part of the “restitution of all things” in this dispensation. 3

Malachi foresaw the great apostasy of the Church in the meridian of time and the Lord’s latter-day call for Israel to come back: “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:7; see also D&C 1:15–17).

Malachi’s prophecy continues, “Will a man rob God? … Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8). Tithes and offerings were to be implemented in the Lord’s Church in the last days “that there may be meat in mine house” (Mal. 3:10; see also D&C 119). Tithing funds are used to build temples where the essential, eternal ordinances are offered to all. As the Savior described it to the Prophet Joseph Smith, temple blessings are “a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited” (see D&C 58:8–12).

The prophet Malachi also foresaw people living in the latter days who wondered if their obedience was all in vain, questioning whether it was really worth it to continue to keep the commandments—especially when so many disobedient, proud, and wicked people appeared to be doing so well and even seemed to be “happy,” “set up,” and “delivered” (see Mal. 3:13–15). The Lord’s response is to be patient. A “book of remembrance” is being kept of those who “feared the Lord, and [who] thought upon his name” (Mal. 3:16). The Lord will hold them close to his heart and carry them on his shoulders just as the high priest carried beautiful jewels on his shoulders and on the breastplate with the names of the tribes of Israel inscribed on them (see Ex. 28:9, 12, 15–21, 29). As the ancient high priest carried jewels with him into the Holy of Holies, so will the heavenly high priest, the Savior, carry righteous members of the house of Israel through the veil and back into the presence of God. As Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified: “He wants us to come home again to His presence. That is His greatest priority” (Church News, 28 Feb. 1998, 10).

The Lord also warned Malachi that the proud and the wicked would be destroyed by fire at the Second Coming (see Mal. 4:1, D&C 29:9–11; D&C 63:34; D&C 133:40–41, 49). They will be left without “root” or “branch” (see Mal. 4:1; D&C 133:62–64, 71–72).

But to those who fear the Lord, Malachi assured, the “Sun of righteousness [shall] arise with healing in his wings” and they shall “grow up as calves in the stall” (Mal. 4:2)—a reference to how the Atonement and the millennial resurrection will both heal and preserve the righteous.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said Moroni quoted the last two verses of Malachi 4 with a little variation from the way it reads in the Bible:

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (see JS—H 1:38–39; emphasis added; see also D&C 2:1–3).

In response to Malachi’s prophecy, Christians and Jewish people have looked forward to Elijah’s appearance. Many Jewish families still set a place at the seder table every Passover, longing for his return. And true to Malachi’s prophecy, Elijah did appear at Passover. On 3 April 1836, a Passover day, Elijah appeared with the Savior in the Kirtland Temple and by the laying on of hands gave Joseph Smith the sealing keys of the priesthood. As a result, families may now seek out their ancestors and have the ordinances performed in temples that seal or bind them together. Hearts of the children are being turned to their fathers, and promises made to our ancestors in the premortal life that their descendants would provide these essential ordinances are fulfilled as we extend the blessings of the temple to them. Temple work, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “fulfills the mission of Elijah.” 4

With so much emphasis on the restoration of eternal blessings, it is easy to understand why Moroni would choose to begin tutoring Joseph Smith with Malachi’s prophecies.

Isaiah 11 [Isa. 11]

Moroni also quoted Isaiah chapter 11 and said “it was about to be fulfilled” (JS—H 1:40). Isaiah had seen that Jesus Christ—a “stem,” or descendant, of Jesse—would come to the earth and judge in righteousness (see Isa. 11:1–4; D&C 113:1–2). His ministry and teachings would increase until “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

Isaiah also saw that a great prophet would be raised up in the latter days (see Isa. 11:10; D&C 113:3–6). This prophet would raise an “ensign” (a standard or banner) for all nations to see and to which many people would seek (Isa. 11:10, 12). Isaiah said that when the ensign was raised, the Lord would “set his hand again, the second time to recover” his people (Isa. 11:11). He would assemble the “outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:12).

Joseph Smith is this great prophet of the Restoration, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the ensign raised up to all the world. In a revelation given in 1838, the Lord identified the Prophet Joseph as the one foreseen by Isaiah, “unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days” (D&C 113:6). 5

As prophesied, the Church—the ensign—has been raised in the tops of the mountains and is coming out of obscurity. It waves for all to see (see Isa. 2:2–3; D&C 1:30; D&C 109:72–73). It is the stone “cut out without hands” Daniel saw in vision that “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (see Dan. 2:34–35; D&C 65:2). Daniel said this kingdom “shall never be destroyed,” “shall not be left to other people,” and “shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44).

The spirit of these Old Testament prophecies was captured in Joel H. Johnson’s lyrics to “High on the Mountain Top”:

High on the mountain top
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations, now look up;
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land,
On Zion’s mount behold it stand!
For God remembers still
His promise made of old
That he on Zion’s hill
Truth’s standard would unfold!
Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.
His house shall there be reared,
His glory to display,
And people shall be heard
In distant lands to say:
We’ll now go up and serve the Lord,
Obey his truth and learn his word.
For there we shall be taught
The law that will go forth,
With truth and wisdom fraught,
To govern all the earth.
Forever there his ways we’ll tread,
And save ourselves with all our dead.

(Hymns, no. 5)

Acts 3:22–23

Moroni also recounted Acts 3:22–23, in which Peter quoted Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 [Deut. 18:15, 19]. Preceding the words in Acts is a prophecy that in the last days a time of “refreshing” would come from the presence of the Lord (see Acts 3:19). The Father would “send Jesus Christ, … whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20–21). The First Vision of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820 began the fulfillment of this prophecy (see JS—H 1:15–17). As President Gordon B. Hinckley has testified, “You and I are experiencing the profound and wonderful blessings of the dispensation of the fulness of times. In this day and time there have been restored to the earth all of the principles, powers, blessings, and keys of all previous dispensations.” 6

Moroni taught Joseph about the next two verses, which state that a prophet like Moses would be raised up, that this prophet was to be heard in all things he revealed, and that those who “will not hear that prophet” would be destroyed at the Second Coming (Acts 3:22–23). Joseph Smith was told that “that prophet was Christ; but the day had not yet come when ‘they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people,’ but soon would come” (JS—H 1:40). Joseph later learned that this “cutting off” or separation of the wicked and the righteous would occur at the Second Coming. 7

Joel 2:28–32

Moroni also taught a prophecy from Joel that preceding the Second Coming the Lord would pour out his spirit “upon all” and many “wonders” would be shown in the heavens and on the earth (see Joel 2:28–31). Daniel foresaw similar wonders in the latter days and said that “knowledge shall be increased” (see Dan. 10:14; Dan. 12:4).

“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

“And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28–29). After quoting this passage, Moroni told Joseph “that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be” (see JS—H 1:41; emphasis added).

“To illustrate how meaningful that prophecy was and how it relates to our day,” Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy has said, “we need to get some perspective of history.” 8 He pointed out that the quickest Adam and Eve could communicate or travel over long distances was by horse. Almost 6,000 years later, the fastest Joseph Smith could communicate or travel was by horse. No progress in travel in almost 6,000 years of history! But beginning with the Restoration, the Lord began to pour out his Spirit and unveil modern inventions that have enabled us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “I do not believe for one moment that these discoveries have come by chance, or that they have come because of superior intelligence possessed by men today over those who lived in ages that are past. They have come and are coming because the time is ripe, because the Lord has willed it, and because he has poured out his Spirit on all flesh.” 9 President Howard W. Hunter testified, “The role of technology in [the sacred work of providing ordinances for the deceased] has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so.” 10 It is a marvelous time in the history of the world to be alive.

Cars, planes, telephones, computers, and so forth enable us to do so much more than ever before. But they can also distract us from doing what, eternally, really matters most. Susa Young Gates once asked her father, President Brigham Young, how it would ever be possible to accomplish the great amount of temple work that needed to be done. “He told her there would be many inventions of labor-saving devices, so that our daily duties could be performed in a short time, leaving us more and more time for temple work. The inventions have come, and are still coming, but many simply divert the time gained to other channels, and not for the purpose intended by the Lord.” 11

Joel saw that before the Second Coming there would be blood, fire, wars, and “pillars of smoke.” 12 He also saw the path leading to safety: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance” (Joel 2:32). Real safety, as observed by Joel, comes to those who are spiritually prepared and who gather with the Saints, wherever they are found (see also D&C 45:56–57).

Other Old Testament Passages

In an 1835 letter to members of the Church, Oliver Cowdery noted that Moroni also taught Joseph Smith passages from Jeremiah 16, 30–31; Isaiah 1–2; Psalms 91:6; 100; 107; 144; and 146:10; and other biblical passages. 13 These particular scriptures point to similar themes: praising the Lord for the latter-day Restoration, temple building, the worldwide missionary effort, and God’s promise to gather Israel.

Jeremiah was living in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction by the Babylonian army (see 1 Ne. 7:14; Hel. 8:20). Moroni quoted Jeremiah’s prophecy that in the latter days “a new covenant” would be established by the Lord “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31).

“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, … saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord” (Jer. 31:33–34; see also Jer. 32:38–39; Jer. 24:7).

The Lord told Jeremiah that he would call for many “fishers” and “hunters” to gather the righteous together (Jer. 16:16). “Fishers” use nets to gather great numbers at one time. “Hunters” gather their prey one at a time. Some of our modern missionaries are serving in “hunter” nations and some are called to serve in “fisher” nations.

In this chapter that Moroni discussed with Joseph, Jeremiah said that the miracles attending the latter-day gathering would be so great and so astonishing that we would exclaim, “The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel … from all the lands whither he had driven them” (see Jer. 16:14–15; see also Jer. 23:7–8). The miracles attending missionary work in our day are truly astounding. In 1980 President Ezra Taft Benson said: “With all my soul I testify that this work will go forward till every land and people have had opportunity to accept our message. Barriers will come down for us to accomplish this mission, and some of us will see this done. Our Heavenly Father will cause conditions in the world to change so that His gospel can penetrate every border.” 14

Jeremiah also prophesied of the Latter-day Saints’ westward trek to their new home in the tops of the mountains (see Jer. 31:6–12). Similarly, Isaiah saw the house of the Lord established in the top of the mountains (see Isa. 2:2–3; cf. Micah 4:1–2). From its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Church is now sending ambassadors across the globe to the far corners of the earth, inviting all to learn about the restored gospel (see Isa. 2:3–5; Isa. 18:1–3).

After discussing these and other prophecies in the 1835 letter, Oliver Cowdery wrote, “I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother. … You will understand … that while those glorious things were being rehearsed, the vision was also opened, so that our brother was permitted to see and understand much more full and perfect than I am able to communicate in writing.”

This Is Our Day

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that each time Moroni appeared to him that September night in 1823, he “related the very same things which he had done at his first visit, without the least variation” and then added further instructions (see JS—H 1:45–46). The repetition emphasizes the importance of these prophecies. As Latter-day Saints, we view the Old Testament as uniquely relevant to us, seeing a direct correlation between what many Old Testament prophets foretold and what the Church is now accomplishing. We therefore ought to feel a strong connection with the prophecies of the Old Testament.

As millions upon millions in these last days have discovered for themselves, the Restoration is real. It was foreknown. It came through Joseph Smith. It is the Lord’s work and continues to gather momentum to fulfill his purposes. We live in the favored day when many Old Testament prophecies are being fulfilled relating to the work of the Lord prior to his coming again to the world. This is our day in the history of the kingdom of God on the earth. Ancient prophets foresaw it, the early Saints in this dispensation laid the foundation, and it is now up to us to move the work forward.

As the Prophet Joseph declared, “Truly this is a day long to be remembered by the Saints of the last days,—a day in which the God of heaven has begun to restore the ancient order of His kingdom unto His servants and His people,—a day in which all things are concurring to bring about the completion of the fullness of the Gospel, a fullness of the dispensation of dispensations, even the fullness of times; a day in which God has begun to make manifest and set in order in His Church those things which have been, and those things which the ancient prophets and wise men desired to see but died without beholding them.” 15

[illustration] Illustrated by Joseph Brickey

[illustration] Painting by Judith Mehr

[illustration] Building of the Nauvoo Temple, by Glen S. Hopkinson

[illustration] Detail from View of Salt Lake City, 1985, by Al Rounds

[illustration] Detail of painting by Harry Anderson

[illustration] Painting by Hagen Haltern, courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art

[illustration] Fishers of Men, by Clark Kelley Price

W. Jeffrey Marsh is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    In a CES symposium presentation, Dan Bachman suggested these additional resources about Joseph Smith’s spiritual education with Moroni:

    a. Hyrum L. Andrus, “Education and Early Experiences,” chapter 3 in Joseph Smith, the Man and the Seer (1960).

    b. Kent P. Jackson, “The Appearance of Moroni to Joseph Smith,” in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2, Pearl of Great Price (1985), 339–66.

    c. Kent P. Jackson, “Moroni’s Message to Joseph Smith,” Ensign, Aug. 1990, 12–16.

    d. H. Donl Peterson, “Moroni—Joseph Smith’s Teacher,” in Regional Studies in LDS Church History: New York (1992), 49–70.

    e. H. Donl Peterson, “Moroni—Joseph Smith’s Tutor,” Ensign, Jan. 1992, 22–29.

    f. Bruce A. Van Orden, “Joseph Smith’s Developmental Years, 1823–1829,” in Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2, 367–87.

    g. John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith, Seeker After Truth, Prophet of God (1951), 27–71.

  2.   2.

    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 231.

  3.   3.

    See D&C 84:31; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 172–73; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (1954–56), 3:93–94.

  4.   4.

    See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 330.

  5.   5.

    For a more detailed discussion of these passages see “The Problems of the ‘Rod’ and the ‘Root of Jesse’ in Isaiah 11,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1966, 869, 914–15.

  6.   6.

    “A Chosen Generation,” Ensign, May 1992, 70.

  7.   7.

    See D&C 85:1–4, 9; D&C 133:62–63; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 102.

  8.   8.

    “Of Laughter, Light, and Love,” CES Young Adult Fireside in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, 19 Sept. 1993.

  9.   9.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1926, 117.

  10.   10.

    “We Have a Work to Do,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 65.

  11.   11.

    Archibald F. Bennett, “Put On Thy Strength, O Zion!” Improvement Era, Oct. 1952, 720.

  12.   12.

    See Joel 2:30–31. The Hebrew word for pillar means cloud or column (see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible; s.v. “tîmârâh”).

  13.   13.

    See Messenger and Advocate, letter no. 6, Apr. 1835, 108–12.

  14.   14.

    The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (1988), 174.

  15.   15.

    History of the Church, 4:492.