I have been having a great time digging through Avraham Gileadi’s book “The End From the Beginning” which analyzes Isaiah’s apocalyptic vision of the last days. My favorite kind of books are the ones that help me connect the dots, personally. Now, in order to connect dots you have to have them first, so here’s dot one: the Heber C. Kimball prophecy concerning a great latter-day test.
I realize that I refer to this prophecy quite frequently on this blog, but I just keep finding so many various connections to it that I just have to put some thoughts down. Here is just a small excerpt:
…the Saints will be put to a test that will try the integrity of the best of them. The pressure will become so great that the more righteous among them will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes.
Yes, we think we are secure here in the chambers of these everlasting hills, where we can close the doors of the canyons against mobs and persecutors, the wicked and the vile, who have always beset us with violence and robbery, but I want to say to you, my brethren, that the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy against the people of God.
Then is the time to look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great shifting time, and many will fall. For I say unto you there is a test, a Test, a TEST coming. (Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor in the First Presidency, May 1868, in Deseret News, 23 May 1931; see also Conference Report, Oct. 1930, p. 58-59)
The last part where he says “…a test, a test, a test…” is the first dot. Late President Gordon B. Hinckley referenced these very words in a talk first given in 1974 (which was then repeated again in 1990) where he concluded: “…I do not know precisely the nature of that test. But I am inclined to think the time is here…” He suggested, “that the test lies in our capacity to live the gospel rather than adopt the ways of the world” (Gordon B. Hinckley, A City Set Upon a Hill, October 1974 General Conference).
I’ve wondered about these words for several years. Our “capacity” to “live the gospel”, those words seem so basic and simple and perhaps they are. The second dot is that the test is happening now, and has been for the last few decades.
President Hinckley may not have “precisely” known the nature of the test but perhaps Isaiah did.
As I was reading through “The End From the Beginning” on page 27 over Christmas, I came across a section titled “Threat One, Threat Two, Threat Three” where Brother Gileadi outlines a Babylonian literary pattern that is based on a cycle of “three threats or hazards a hero or heroine must face”. Being somewhat of a numerical symbolism geek, I have a habit of writing shapes in the margins of my books whenever I see numerical values arise in texts. After drawing a triangle while going through this section, the following words jumped off the page:
“In the Book of Isaiah, these consist of three tests God’s people must pass in order to inherit a millennial peace. The tests have a refining efffect on Israel. When Israel passes the tests, she demonstrates her loyalty to God. At the same time, the tests weed out from God’s people those who will not repent of wrongdoing.” (Avraham Gileadi, The End From the Beginning, p.27)
The fourth dot was the knowledge of the number three as an indicator of divine emphasis and this passage connected all the dots. As I pondered all the triadic connections between things, the word “test” drew me right back to Heber C. Kimball’s threefold repetition of “…a test, a test, a test…”.
This got me wondering if he was just trying to emphasize that a single test was coming or if he was perhaps really stating that a test #1, a test #2 and a test #3 are coming; three tests. Now this is all just pure speculation, but when we look at Gileadi’s analysis of these three tests that Isaiah mentions, I can’t help but see a direct correlation on how these are indeed some of the latter-day tests that we face today.
Test 1 – Allegiance to the Archtyrant
The first test involves the “King of Assyria” who, according to Gileadi is a metaphor for the various blood and power-thirsty superpowers that have sought world domination throughout time and are doing so now in our day and age. Gileadi asks:
“Will Israel give her allegiance to him or to her God? If she gives her allegiance to the king of Assyria, she will enjoy temporary benefits but suffer an everlasting loss. If she gives her allegiance to God, there will be temporary challenges but God will deliver her and bless her forever.” (p.27)
How does one give their allegiance to the archtyrant? A clue may be in the Book of Mormon where it records that the Nephites were deceived by the archtryant of their day who “had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations” (Helaman 6:38).
Secret combinations plague our world, driven by an insatiable lust for gain. Through legal and illegal plunder they use the false philanthropy of socialism and direct dictatorship to violate natural rights by claiming to only “spread the wealth around”. There are many who benefit from this plunder and even demand that more be given. Frederic Basitat wrote:
You say: “There are persons who have no money,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society. Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in. If every person draws from the treasury the amount that he has put in it, it is true that the law then plunders nobody. But this procedure does nothing for the persons who have no money. It does not promote equality of income. The law can be an instrument of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to other persons. When the law does this, it is an instrument of plunder.The Law
What the law cannot extract from the people it goes into debt for and we become the debtors. As governments borrow more and more from private central banks, the people become more deeply enslaved and don’t even realize it. The people may temporarily see benefits but immoral systems of plunder are unsustainable and economies and civilizations collapse as the plunderers concentrate wealth and power unto themselves. I suggest a good reading of “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat to gain a clear understanding of this principle.
Do we partake of the spoils of this plunder? Do we vote for representatives and laws that support this plunder? Is our allegiance with the Archtyrant?
Test 2 – Material Pleasures: Idolatry
Gileadi points out next the Idolators and their goods; he asks again:
“Will Israel worship things made by human hands, or will she worship God, her Maker? If she worships idols, she will find that focusing on material pleasures causes spiritual blindness, and in the end she will come away empty-handed. But if she worships God and serves him, he promises to bless her now and always. That is the only way she can come to know God. She has only to put that to the test” (p.27-28).
We don’t like to think of ourselves as idolators. Sure, we might not have a little wooden effigy in our pockets that we believe is a god, but is that what Idolatry is? Noah Webster included under his definition of idolatry:
Excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration. [Websters 1828 dictionary]
Perhaps our idolatry falls within the spectrum of excessive attachment? Addictions plague our generation and we are surrounded constantly by “material pleasures” and “things made by human hands”. News, TV shows, radio, websites, all are filled with marketing messages seeking to sell you the latest and greatest new products. There is an endless amount of things to buy, own and cherish. Whereas 100 years ago, how many things did you really need? How many shiny new trinkets were there to lust after?
But maybe it isn’t about trinkets. Maybe our idolatry is based in the desire for wealth and the comfort and protection that mammon brings. What will happen to us if we don’t have money or savings for the future? What will happen if I don’t leave my family to slave away for extra hours at the office to build a mighty reserve as my source of providence?
I’m not saying that working hard and savings are bad but do we pursue them without remembering the source of all blessings?
Jesus Christ taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread…” (Luke 11:3) which I believe is a reference to the manna that fed the children of Israel in the wilderness. Exodus 16 tells the story of this heavenly bread that was found on the ground each morning. The Israelites were allowed to collect as much as they needed individually and not allowed to save any for the next day except for the day before the Sabbath. If they attempted to save any for the next day, perhaps in fear of there being none tomorrow, then it would rot and be filled with worms.
Is there a lesson there for us? If Jesus Christ was referencing manna then the rest of the Sermon on the Mount goes right along with this idea. Jesus taught the following principles that I believe can help us avoid latter-day idolatry. Ponder the following words and pay attention to the parts that might make you feel uncomfortable; I have found that this is a good way of discovering things that I need to address in my life.
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.Luke 12:22-34, ESV
Is fearing tomorrow an indicator that we do not trust or know God? How can one fear tomorrow if they know God? This fear of tomorrow and lack of trust in God cause us to instead place our trust in the quest for mammon to clothe and protect us? Is mammon then our protector and our god?
Test 3 – False Religious and Political Leaders
The third test requires that we live very close to the spirit so that we can have discernment.
“Will Israel yield to pressure from evil authorities, or will she trust in God and wait for his deliverance? If she sides with religious and political leaders who persecute the followers of righteousness, then she herself will not come under attack. But by taking that course she will cut herself off from God’s people. On the other hand, if she aligns herself with God and willingly suffers persecution because she bears his name, then God will ultimately deliver her from shame. He will exalt her as his spouse in the sight of all peoples.”p.28
Joseph Smith warned about blind obedience:
We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them even if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with;Millennial Star, vol.14 #38, page 593-95
“Prest. J. Smith rose, read the 14th Chap. of Ezekiel— said the Lord had declar’d by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church— that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls— app[l]ied it to the present state of the church of Latter-Day Saints— said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall— that they were depending on the prophet hence were darkened in their minds from neglect of themselves—”Minutes and Discourse, 26 May 1842, p. , The Joseph Smith Papers
Brigham Young gave a warning concerning leaders in the Church but I think we can apply it to political leaders as well:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.JD 9:151
Joseph F. Smith said:
I know of but One in all the world who can be taken as the first and only perfect standard for us to follow, and he is the Only Begotten Son of God. I would feel sorry indeed, if I had a friend or an associate in this life who would turn away from the plan of life and salvation because I might stumble or make a failure of my life. I want no man to lean upon me nor to follow me, only so far as I am a consistent follower in the footsteps of the Master.Gospel Doctrine, Pg.4, underline added. See also the Juvenile Instructor, 1915, Vol. 50, pp. 738, 739.
George Q. Cannon pointed out:
Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an apostle or a president; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support will be gone; but if we lean on God, He will NEVER fail us. When men and women depend upon GOD ALONE and trust in HIM ALONE, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside.DW 43:322 [Mar 7, 1891]
Ezra Taft Benson said:
Certain individuals within the Church may go astray and even fall away. This may happen even to a person in the Church who is in a position of some influence and authority. It has happened in the past. It will happen in the future. If our faith is in Jesus Christ and not in the arm of flesh, then we will know that we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ and not the church of men.Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Pg. 90
Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve us from the responsibility to know [truth] for ourselves. This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation – and it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth. Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth. Brigham Young said: “ I am… afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates.” So we continually seek truth from all good books and other wholesome sources.Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Salt Lake City, Utah January 14, 2013) https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/dieter-f-uchtdorf/what-is-truth
Lehi left a Jerusalem that featured a corrupt government and a corrupt church. Moroni saw our day and this is what he said to the members of Christ’s church:
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world? (Mormon 8:38)
In speaking of a coming day of vengeance, the Lord stated:
“And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord” (D&C 112:25-26).
The Lord cleans his house and the nations of the earth every now and then as we see from the scriptures and it will happen again in the future. I don’t have any clue on how this cleansing will occur and who it will involve, but one thing is for sure, the Church and the nation will be affected.
Now I want to be clear here, I am not accusing any leader of the church presently or suggesting that their counsel should be ignored or rejected altogether.
Based on the quotes I have shared above, and many, many others I have not included here as well as the prophecies of Isaiah and the Book of Mormon, we need to be aware. We a person who puts all their trust in the arm of the flesh will be cursed, but mortals can be trusted if their precepts are given by the Holy Ghost.
Thus is it incumbent upon us to always be aware and in tune with the Spirit, knowledgable of the scriptures and able to discern truth from error. Our leaders can indeed lead us astray because they are mortal and fallible. But this is why we “sustain” them, the word sustain means “to keep from falling.” So we of the church play a part in collectively keeping the Church together to honor the Lord.
Some people abandon the Church and the people because they cannot reconcile things. Alma and the sons of Mosiah left their people to save the Lamanites because of the tremendous love in their hearts. I think about what they would do today, and I don’t think they would abandon their own people in their time of need.
Lehi only left Jerusalem after his life was threatened and he had to leave. Yet people will exit the church because someone said something they don’t like, or they were wronged by someone. How can such a brittle people withstand what is coming?
I’ve known people who have left this Church and others and I feel a great deal of empathy toward their struggles. I get the pain and understand that sometimes removing yourself from the situation is all that a person can think of at the moment. We all have our own paths that can sometimes take us to unexpected places, but I hope that some will choose to return and grapple with these paradoxes, use the teachings of the master to forgive, stand for truth, and assist in doing the hard work of building the kingdom one brick at a time.
I personally feel that our business is to focus on the beams in our own eyes so that we can see clearly and not be deceived. As for the Church, it is God’s Church and he will take care of it. We can trust that he knows what he’s doing, we can be among the saints with eyes wide open even if all around us are blind or deceived.
We should not give up on people, least of all our covenant brothers and sisters.
According to Avraham Gileadi, Isaiah prophesied three tests that those living in the latter days would have to pass. Could Heber C. Kimball’s contemporary warning of a great test and his repetition of “…a test, a test, a test…” be a subtle allusion to the same three tests revealed by Isaiah?
Although certain aspects of these tests might not yet be in their total fulfillment, is there any doubt that Isaiah’s three tests are before us today?