Then shall the Lord God say unto him, The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore, thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee. Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time, for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work...For behold, I am God, and I am a God of miracles, and I will shew unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.
—2 Nephi 11:20 RE
As we’ve traced the path of scripture through the ages, we’ve seen inspiration, revelation, education, destruction, recovery, prophecy, protection, planning, prescience and care manifest to a great degree. We’ve also watched the epic battle between good and evil—between truth and error—play out on the stage constructed of the bones of mortals and the eternal suffering of souls. In short, the battle over scripture is the battle over this creation. Everything hangs in the balance, and it's more serious than we can imagine.
Considered from this perspective, we can readily identify the Lord’s intervention—often through small and simple means—to preserve and protect a record of truth on earth. Even as the ruin of scripture played out among apostates and idolators, the Lord worked behind the scenes, through a single prophetic family to yet preserve a record equal to the evil it would confront in our day. This is the final act. The stage is set, the characters are in place, the script is written and the lights are dimming. We have front row seats to watch the denouement play out.
The preparation for this moment began, literally, before the foundation of the world, and has continued through millennia. Rather than attempting to explain all the incredible works of God concerning all scripture, my goal here is to simply consider the Book of Mormon portion of that record, and the lengths to which God went to ensure the record made it into our hands.
From the first moments of Lehi’s history, we encounter tantalizing questions to which we don’t have answers.
Wherefore, it came to pass that my father Lehi, as he went forth, prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart in behalf of his people. And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him, and he saw and heard much. And because of the things which he saw and heard, he did quake and tremble exceedingly. And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem. And he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the spirit and the things which he had seen. And being thus overcome with the spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the Heavens open and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw one descending out of the midst of Heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noonday. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth. And the first came and stood before my father and gave unto him a book and bade him that he should read. (1 Nephi 1:1)
Who was this Lehi anyway? From whence did he “go forth?” Why was he attempting to make intercession on behalf of his people? And who were “his people?” All Jerusalem? His family? His lineage? What was the pillar of fire? Why was there a rock before Lehi as he made intercession? Who was the one brighter than the sun at noonday? What is the significance of the Messiah handing him a book? Why was the initial revelation to Lehi given in the form of a book? What did this prefigure? Why are the 12 others characterized in comparison to stars, while the Messiah is characterized by the sun?
Well, that’s only part of the first paragraph of the book. Clearly, there’s much more to this Lehi character than we might first assume. When God instructed him to flee, then had him send back his sons for the record, the shift that took place at that moment was cosmic in nature. The kingship of Israel, the custodianship of THE holy record, and the future of the world took an astonishing turn (a left turn at the Red Sea, to be precise.) God acted through one who had been in his presence to remarkably alter the destiny of scripture and therefore of the world.
Who could have foreseen that the most important record in human history would end up spirited off in the dark of night by a fleeing family, accompanied by signs of kingship and headed for a new promised land in a new continent, led by God and pursued by an army?
Oh wait, was I talking about the Exodus? Or was I talking about Lehi’s family? Or was I referring to Nephi leaving the land of their first inheritance? Or perhaps referring to Mosiah’s exodus to Zarahemla? Or maybe something in the future…The pattern does seem to repeat itself, doesn’t it? Every exodus in history has included preservation of sacred records.
Well, rather than consider them all, let’s confine ourselves to the Book of Mormon for a bit. Here’s a quick outline of some pivotal and miraculous events in the development and preservation of that holy record:
- Obtaining the Plates of Brass from Laban’s treasury
- Carrying the record into the wilderness
- Making a second set of plates to replace the future lost manuscript
- Preserving the records in the promised land through a line of record keepers
- Keeping the sacred records from generation to generation
- Carefully choosing the successor record keepers
- Promising the future preservation of the record
- Defending the records against destruction by those who vowed to destroy them
- Amplifying the record by adding specifics needed by future generations
- Preventing translation and inclusion of certain information
- Intentionally exposing the errors of past generations in hopes we would avoid their mistakes
- Adding the small plates to the large plates abridgment
- Setting up a free Gentile nation where these things could come forth and spread to all the world
- Foreseeing and controlling the eventual audience of the book
What was the significance of God’s continued efforts to defend the record? Why did those who knew God personally desire most that a record be preserved? Nobody demonstrates that more poignantly than Enos:
And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him: that if it should so be that my people the Nephites should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people the Nephites, even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth some future day unto the Lamanites, that perhaps they might be brought unto salvation. For at the present, our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that if it were possible, they would destroy our records, and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
Wherefore I, knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me, Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive, in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it. And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records. And he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time. And I, Enos, knew that it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore, my soul did rest. And the Lord said unto me, Thy fathers have also required of me this thing, and it shall be done unto them according to their faith, for their faith was like unto thine. (Enos 1:3-4)
Enos’s soul could not rest until he had obtained a promise from God that the record would be preserved. This promise did nothing to benefit him, but like the future sons of Mosiah, he was “desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for [he] could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure Endless torment did cause [him] to quake and tremble. And thus did the spirit of the Lord work upon [him].” (See Mosiah 12:1)
Consider this: If the hallmark of godly mortals is the desire that a record be preserved so salvation can be declared, how much more intense must be God’s commitment to preserving scripture? What sort of resolve does it take to continually guide, teach, guard, and protect the word that has gone forth?
Consider how scripture has historically been handled.
The Book of Remembrance from the first Fathers was kept in a box that could only be opened by the faithful. Joseph’s Brass Plates were carried with his remains in his coffin-ark. (I suspect that they, too, could only be opened by the faithful.) The tablets of Moses were born by Levites and protected by power so fearsome that even unauthorized touching of the box that contained the record resulted in death (2 Samuel 2:8 RE). Laban’s refusal to surrender the record according to God’s will resulted in his death (1 Nephi 1:17 RE). Joseph Smith’s initial attempts to remove the plates from the ground before their time resulted in him being thrown back by a shock three times.
The Ark of the Covenant protected stone tablets in a gold box. The ark of Cumorah protected gold tablets in a stone box. All demonstrated the power of God to protect and preserve the record. When Joseph finally received the plates, he was charged very strictly regarding their safety (JSH 6:1). Family legend has it that Joseph was instructed to bring a box with him to the hill when he obtained the plates so he would have a way to keep them hidden from view as he carried them home and stored them. The legend further states that Joseph procrastinated this preparation until the day he was due at the hill, and having not yet obtained a box, he hastily borrowed a lap desk from his brother Alvin who used it to store tools. Joseph literally dumped out the tools, took the box, and hurried to the hill.
When the translation began, Joseph arranged a sheet to separate the translation space from the rest of the room. He literally went behind the veil, into the Holy of Holies to translate the record from within the veil. The first sacred space Joseph established in his dispensation wasn’t a temple. It was a treasury to house scripture and bring it forth to us. The symbolism ought not be lost on us.
Further miracles attended the publication of the Book of Mormon. E.B. Grandin didn’t have nearly enough type to typeset the book, nor was there a ready source. But somehow he immediately had enough brand new type to do the job. The source of the paper remains a mystery (the type and amount of paper needed simply didn’t exist.) And the typesetting and press work, running a single press 60 hours per week, as fast as it could go, the actual printing could not have been accomplished in less than 15-1/2 months. Add binding to that, and a minimum of 17 months would be required for the first books to become available. Yet the job was completed by a tiny newspaper print shop in just over 6 months. There is no explanation. The power of his holy arm, indeed (for details see, “Miracle on Palmyra’s Main Street: An Old-time Printer’s Perspective on Printing the Original Copies of the Book of Mormon” by Gordon L. Weight).
Overwhelming evidence leads me to believe there is little on earth more important to God than accurate scripture. And though he allows foolish men to tamper, alter and destroy in times of apostasy, God has also shown he will make bare his mighty arm and wield his unspeakable power in defense of scripture for those who will value the record. And it may not be accomplished at all in the way we expect. Let’s consider one example.
When Lehi obtained and read the Brass Plates record, Nephi reported the following:
And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the spirit and began to prophesy concerning his seed — that these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, and tongues, and people, who were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed anymore by time. (1 Nephi 1:22RE)
Likewise, Alma prophesied as follows:
…these plates of brass which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning. And behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon. And now behold, if they are kept, they must retain their brightness, yea, and they will retain their brightness, yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ. (Alma 17:7 RE)
From these passages, we may easily conclude the Lord intends to bring forth the Brass Plates themselves at some future date so they can be published to the world. And that may, indeed be what happens. But let’s consider another perspective.
Nephi, the first writer in the Book of Mormon presented much of his prophecy by quoting the prior prophet Isaiah. He adapted Isaiah’s words to his own purposes, using them to encode what he was not allowed to directly reveal. In doing so, he set a precedent of teaching truth by quoting from the Plates of Brass. Because he quoted a prophet whose writings we yet have today in the Old Covenants, we can verify his method.
The next record keeper, Nephi’s brother Jacob, did exactly the same thing, but he quoted from Zenos, even going so far as to offer his own “prophecy” that the words of Zenos were true and would come to pass. We don’t have the full record of Zenos available to us to verify Jacob’s method, but it is nevertheless obvious that Jacob simply taught truths that already appeared in the Brass Plates record.
It’s therefore extremely likely that the other authors quoted extensively from the Plates of Brass as well, and the only reason we can’t identify more of their sources is our lack of extant records from the era. But even given the limited Old Covenants writings still available, we can identify numerous instances of Book of Mormon authors relying on prior prophets.
Jesus Christ himself, in teaching at Bountiful quoted extensively from Isaiah, Micah and Malachi, thus following the same pattern and quoting from the Plates of Brass and other prophets.
Therefore, even if the actual Plates of Brass don’t come forth, or no longer exist, the prophecy nevertheless is fulfilled by the Book of Mormon. Is it not filled with light and “brightness” from the Plates of Brass? Has it been dimmed by time? Has it not gone forth to every nation, kindred, tongue and people? Has it not been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord in every particular? Therefore, whether we recognize it or not, whether it conforms to our expectations or doesn’t, nevertheless God has acted to vindicate the prophecies, and none can say otherwise.
Therefore, one lesson we can and should take from all this is that God has an iron will when it comes to scripture. His words will be fulfilled, his promises will be vindicated, and earth and Hell cannot stop him or hinder him in the least. We have thousands of years of history and too long a list of miracles attesting to this fact. Who can gainsay it?
What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from Heaven upon the heads of the Latter Day Saints…Hell may pour forth its rage like the burning lava of Mount Vesuvius, or of Etna, or of the most terrible of the burning mountains, and yet shall Mormonism stand. Water, fire, truth, and God are all the same. Truth is Mormonism. God is the author of it. He is our shield. It is by him we received our birth. It was by his voice that we were called to a dispensation of his gospel in the beginning of the fullness of times. It was by him we received the Book of Mormon, and it is by him that we remain unto this day, and by him we shall remain if it shall be for our glory, and in his Almighty name we are determined to endure tribulation, as good soldiers unto the end.