In my last post we explored the scriptural prophecies that point to a prophet who would do a great work, but then introduce false doctrine and cause many to stumble. I believe Joseph Smith fits this profile, especially with respect to his introduction of polygamy and spiritual wifery.
The reason why is explained by the fact that his eyes had been covered, again as prophesied, because of the iniquity of the saints who had rejected the higher law of the celestial kingdom. In his darkened state he was susceptible to the deceptions of Satan. The story of Joseph being threatened with death by an angel if he didn’t implement these doctrines always struck me as odd. God doesn’t work that way.
This storyline is NOT something unique to Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Anciently, Moses tried to prepare a people to live the higher law and see the face of The Lord. He failed, they sinned, and then Moses also sinned and was prevented by Jehovah from entering the promised land.
The parallels between Moses and Joseph are striking and worth careful consideration, especially because we are told in several scripture references that Joseph is one “like unto Moses”.
When the children of Israel sinned by building and worshiping the golden calf they had effectively rejected the higher law of the Celestial Kingdom and given themselves over to idolatry. The Lord was very angry with the people for essentially rejecting Him. We are told in the scriptures that Moses became an intercessor between the Lord and the people.
“And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.” Exodus 32:30
“Therefore he (the Lord) said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them.” Psalms 106:23
Now I will be the first to admit that I wish we had much greater knowledge about the details of how Moses was able to intercede on behalf of the people. It seems reasonable to me to conclude that once a people have rejected the higher law they are doomed for destruction unless there is some kind of atonement made under the auspices of the lesser law. Because they have rejected the blessings of the higher priesthood they are subject to the cursings of the lesser priesthood. That curse can then only be turned away by complying with the atonement statute of the Law of Moses which is detailed in Leviticus chapter 16.
As indicated in the scriptures cited above, Moses somehow personally stood in the breach and became that offering necessary to save the people from the consequences of rejecting the higher law.
Because the intricacies of the Law of Moses are foreign to most of us let’s review the major points of the atonement statute in Leviticus 16. I would highly recommend studying that chapter in depth.
1) To the Jewish people this is known as Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement and it occurs in September or October of each year (based on the lunar calendar). It is regarded as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. People fast, pray, and generally seek forgiveness from the Lord for their sins.
2) Anciently, Aaron was commanded to first purify himself and his household prior to entering the holy place by placing upon himself the holy garments and then offering a young bullock as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering.
3) Once purified, Aaron brought two goats before the Lord and casts lots over them, “one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.”
4) The goat upon which fell the “lot for the Lord” is sacrificed as a sin offering.
5) The scapegoat then has the sins of the people symbolically placed upon his head by the laying on of the hands of Aaron, following which the scapegoat is led into the wilderness “by the hand of a fit man.”
The concept of an intercessory offering by a prophet on behalf of the people is something that we don’t talk at all about today in the church, but it is clearly hinted at in the scriptures with respect to Moses.
Part of becoming an offering for the people involved Moses taking upon himself the sins of the people, and in fact acting them out. He did this when he took personal credit for providing water to the people in the wilderness, instead of pointing the people to the Lord who provided them with the living water. This was the exact sin of idolatry that the people were committing, and which Moses enacted as part of an intercessory offering.
“And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into this land which I have given them.” Numbers 20:10-12
This Christ centered symbolism of the water and the rock is something worth pondering for a few moments, at least.
In the case of Joseph, I believe a strong case can be made that he performed an intercessory atonement on behalf of modern Israel who had rejected their God and started to practice abominations before Him.
The intercession starts with the dedication of the Kirtland Temple which took place on March 27, 1836, followed by the solemn assembly which was held one week later on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836, when Joseph and Oliver see the vision documented in D&C 110.
Interestingly, the people were told by Joseph that if they were sufficiently prepared and purified, that the Lord would appear personally and accept the Temple, and that many people would see Him.
“All who are prepared…will see Him in the solemn assembly” HC 2:310
This didn’t happen. Only Joseph and Oliver saw the Lord and they didn’t even tell the people that it happened! What? The Lord appears and no one knows about it! Everyone is waiting for it to happen! One would think that Joseph would have shouted it from the rooftops. He was the prophet who told the people Christ would appear. If anyone had a reason to vindicate his own words, Joseph certainly did.
The vision we now canonize as Section 110 was written down in a journal and only published in the November 6, 1852 issue of the Deseret News. Later it was added to the 1876 version of the D&C. There is no record that he spoke about it publicly or even in private during his lifetime.
Prior to this events of April 3, 1836, Joseph wrote in his journal every day for the six months leading up to this date. For the next 2 years he doesn’t utter a peep. His journal is silent. He has just seen the Lord and been visited by 3 angelic ministers known as Moses, Elias (Abraham), and Elijah! What gives?
What happened in the Kirtland Temple with a one week purification period between the dedication and the solemn assembly is in accordance with an ancient pattern established under the Law of Moses for enacting the Day of Atonement ritual. Could it possibly be that Joseph was enacting that ritual, acting himself as an intercessory offering on behalf of the saints?
Following the visitation of Christ, all hell seems to break loose, with the apostacy in Kirtland and Joseph coming off the rails with respect to his personal behavior. He sinned against the wife of his youth and introduced polygamy, spiritual wifery, masonic temple worship and other sins that were a reflection of what the people were committing. Ultimately, Joseph became the sin offering for the people, having taken upon himself their sins, acting them out, and ultimately dying for them.
The effect of this intercession was to delay the curses and anger of the Lord for a little season. In the D&C the Lord talks about cursings that continue to the third and fourth generation. Joseph’s intercession, I believe, had the effect of delaying the cursings so that the dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham could be re-introduced as happened in D&C 110 with the visitation of Elias (Abraham) after the visit of Christ. The church was effectively downgraded to a preparatory gospel because the gentiles had rejected the fulness. This allowed for the gospel to be preached to remnants of the house of Israel and those branches could then be re-grafted into the roots of the gospel.
And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel…I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. 3 Nephi 16: 10-11.
Why don’t we believe our own scriptures? The FATHER is telling the SON specifically to give us this information and yet we go on believing that we have the fulness and that all is well. I would also suggest reading carefully Jacob 5 regarding the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees.
As we know, Joseph sent the apostles to preach the gospel overseas in 1838 to bring new converts into the church, I believe to commence the fulfilment of the Lord’s prophecy we just read in 3rd Nephi.
The dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham is a topic for another day. Let’s get back to Joseph who leaves us a few clues regarding his intercessory offering.
“I prophesy and bear record this morning that all the combined powers of earth and hell shall not and cannot ever overthrow or overcome this boy, for I have a promise from the eternal God. If I have sinned, I have sinned outwardly; but surely I have contemplated the things of God.” HC 5:554
In instructions given to the Twelve he says: “His (the Lord’s) personal presence we have not, therefore we have need of greater faith, on account of our peculiar circumstances; and I am determined to do all that I can to uphold you, although I may do many things inadvertently that are not right in the sight of God.” HC 2:308
Finally, from the Lord himself:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offering and acknowledgements, which you have made; for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.” D&C 124:1
I freely admit that I am continue to search for greater light and knowledge on the details of Joseph’s intercession, along with the roles of others who participated as well. But I can tell you that my experiences studying this particular topic have left a profound impression upon my soul. I have gained a greater appreciation for Joseph in his foundational role, and look forward with eager anticipation to the work he will yet accomplish in bringing again Zion. May you also be so edified in your searching.