"Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?
"Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.
"Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
"And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him; That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord God." (Ezekiel 14:1-11)
These "elders" were coming to Ezekiel, a man who all spiritually minded people knew was a prophet. Not because he told nice stories or because the Aaronic Jews had a line-of-presidents guarantee that they never again had to worry about being led astray or ask the Lord questions themselves, but because he demonstrated the gifts of prophecy. He spoke no comforting words to Israel who had been under condemnation since Moses was taken out of their midst.
The Lord tells Ezekiel, that he would deceive "every man", "according to the multitude of his idols".
What idols would cause a person to need to come to another mortal to hear the will of God, or to learn of his mysteries? Who did Ezekiel go to, to obtain his answers and gifts? What idols would "certain of the elders" have in their hearts that would cause them to need to go to Ezekiel? Could one of these be unbelief? Could they, like Laman and Lemuel say "We have not inquired of the Lord, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us?"
Laman and his brother believed the Jews to be a righteous people who obeyed the Gospel as it had been dispensed and revealed to Moses. They had the authority to carry it forward, despite their failure at Sinai and their continued condemnation throughout history. This however did not stop them from proclaiming they were Zion, they were Abraham's seed, they were God's chosen people, the best heaven had to offer.
Why would Laman and Lemuel assume the Lord would not answer their inquiry? Did they have a hierarchal system that identified who was righteous and worthy of heed? Did the Pharisees enjoy the idolization, veneration and praise which was heaped up on them as they dispensed a gospel that had not the power to save? I wonder if they had synagogue-wide birthday celebrations, private hunting retreats, the most expensive homes and cars, children educated at the finest middle-eastern universities which they expensed and justified as "being worthy of their hire." Meanwhile men like Ezekiel escaped their damnation and sought the Lord. When John saw an angel was was tempted to idolize him, the angel rebuked him and said:
"See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God." (Revelation 22:9)
Maybe we could render that "Venerate me not", "Praise me not", "Do not kneel or stand or otherwise salute me when I enter", "Do not throw me a birthday party", "One is worthy, worship God alone."
Not even a true prophet is spared, the Lord declares that if Ezekiel answered these idolators, the Lord himself would deceive Ezekiel and the Lord would "destroy him from the mist of my people" and he would "set his face against the prophet and make him a sign and a proverb."
What? What kind of punishment is that? What kind of test was it for Ezekiel that the Lord would inspire him to declare falsehoods? Why wasn't it easy? Why didn't even Ezekiel have a guarantee that he could never lead himself astray?
How many of the Jews qualified under this condemnation? Those who were righteous, temple attending, chosen, peculiar children of the prophets? How many of them became a sign and a proverb? How well could they rely on their leaders to bring them into the presence of God? How many of their leaders came into the presence of God themselves?1
But then, this story, though brutally difficult, a challenge worthy of a being who hopes for promises which only come to those made worthy and able to discern spirits, and face all the challenges God himself places in his power, with multitudes being cut off and made a "sign and a proverb" ends on very a happy note. All this is so "the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord God."
What day does this refer to? Has this day yet come? Has the day yet come when no man need say "know ye the Lord." Has the Lord finished his work? Has he finished making "signs and proverbs"? Has he finished making sons of God? Has he started? If so, where are they? Was the Son of God was cast out of the synagogue of a "righteous people"? What about Lehi, Nephi, Jeremiah, Gideon, Elijah or others who Christ referred to as being stoned by the "righteous" Jews?
It's nice that we don't have to worry about being under that same condemnation. It's nice to know we are a chosen generation, the best heaven has to offer this fallen world, and that we have a guarantee that just so long as we follow a man, we can never be led astray.
Fast forward to today, and then rewind a little...
In the last days, unfortunately, our idolatry started early. Both in the beginning2 of his ministry in 1830 and at the end in 1842, like book-ends he warned the church:
"President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel—said the Lord had declared 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—applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ 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, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy." (TPJS Section 5, pg. 247. Thursday May 26, 1842)
The warnings of Josephs didn't take. Those who were gathering, generally did not even read the Book of Mormon, and to them, the book was little more than proof that God was speaking again today. As time went on, for generations, the book's message was still being neglected. It was still only being used to 1. Prove that the book was authentic, by general authorities3 and institutes like FARMS, and 2. Proof that because we had it, we're "true". Both Ezra Taft Benson4 declared we are still under this condemnation.
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. For shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land? Verily, I say unto you, Nay." (D&C 84:54-59)
The end of these verses are reminiscent of the end of the Ezekiel verses. The beginning is reminiscent of Joseph's statement about Ezekiel 14.
Further because of the saint's idols, their jarrings, contentions and lustful and covetous desires,5 the Lord further took away the fulness of the priesthood out of their midst. Yet they had Joseph a little while longer. In the only significant revelation of the Nauvoo period, the Lord declared the saints lost the fulness of the priesthood and further warned them that they would lose more:
"For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood....
"But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God....
"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy.
"And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place. But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them.
"And it shall come to pass that if you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord. For instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord....
"And again, verily I say unto you, I command you again to build a house to my name, even in this place, that you may prove yourselves unto me that ye are faithful in all things whatsoever I command you, that I may bless you, and crown you with honor, immortality, and eternal life. (D&C 124:31-32, 44-48, 55)
At the time of Joseph and Hyrum's death, the temple was "half complete", nearly two years later the exodus began from Nauvoo, where the saints were apparently "moved out of their place" and suffering "wrath, indignation, and judgments." by May of that year (two years after Carthage) the first floor of the temple was completed by a small remaining crew and a dedicatory prayer is offered five years and four months after the warning of rejection. The temple was never finished. No spiritual outpouring is recorded. Two years later the temple catches fire. Two years after that it is utterly destroyed by a tornado.
Finally, each of the two days before Joseph was taken, he had two visions left to impart to the saints who would remain.
June 25, 1844
"While I was at Jordan's in Iowa, the other night I dreamed that myself and my brother Hyrum went on board of a large steamboat lying in a small bay, near the great ocean. Shortly after we went on board there was an 'alarm of fire,' and I discovered that the boat had been anchored some distance from the shore, out in the bay, and that an escape from the fire, in the confusion, appeared hazardous; but as delay was folly, I and Hyrum jumped overboard, and tried our faith at walking upon the water.
"At first we sank in the water nearly to our knees, but as we proceeded we increased in faith, and were soon able to walk upon the water. On looking towards the burning boat in the east we saw that it was drifting towards the wharf and the town, with a great flame and clouds of smoke; and as if by whirlwind the town was taking fire too, so that the scene of destruction and horror of the frightened inhabitants was terrible.
"We proceeded on the bosom of the mighty deep, and were soon out of sight of the land. The ocean was still; the rays of the sun were bright, and we forgot all the troubles of our Mother Earth. Just at that moment I heard the sound of a human voice, and turning round saw my brother Samuel H. approaching towards us from the east. We stopped, and he came up. After a moment's conversation he informed me that he had been lonesome back, and had made up his mind to go with me across the mighty deep.
"We all started again, and in a short time were blest with the first sight of a city, whose gold and silver steeples and towers were more beautiful than any I had ever seen or heard of on earth. It stood, as it were, upon the western shore of the mighty deep we were walking on, and its order and glory seemed far beyond the wisdom of man. While we were gazing upon the perfection of the city, a small boat launched off from the port and almost as quick as thought came to us. In an instant they took us on board and saluted us with a welcome and with music such as is not on earth. The next scene, on landing, was more than I can describe; the greeting of old friends, the music from a thousand towers, and the light of God himself, at the return of three of his sons, soothed my soul into a quiet and a joy that I felt as if I was truly in heaven. I gazed upon the splendor; I greeted my friends. I awoke and lo, it was a dream!
"While I meditated upon such a marvelous scene I fell asleep again, and behold I stood near the shore of the burning boat, and there was a great consternation among the officers, crew and passengers of the flaming craft, as there seemed to be much ammunition or powder on board. The alarm was given that the fire was near the magazine and in a moment, suddenly it blew up with a great noise, and sank in deep water with all on board. I turned to the country east among the bushy openings and saw William and Wilson Law endeavoring to escape from the wild beasts of the forest, but two lions rushed out of a thicket and devoured them.
"I awoke again." (W. W. Phelps, Millennial Star, Volume 39, p. 837)
June 26, 1844
"I was back in Kirtland, Ohio, and thought I would take a walk out by myself, and view my old farm, which I found grown up with weeds and brambles, and altogether bearing evidence of neglect and want of culture. I went into the barn, which I found without floor or doors, with the weather-boarding off, and was altogether in keeping with the farm.
"While I viewed the desolation around me, and was contemplating how it might be recovered from the curse upon it, there came rushing into the barn a company of furious men, who commenced to pick a quarrel with me.
"The leader of the party ordered me to leave the barn and farm, stating it was none of mine, and that I must give up all hope of ever possessing it.
"I told him the farm was given me by the Church, and although I had not had any use of it for some time back, still I had not sold it, and according to righteous principles it belonged to me or the Church.
"He then grew furious and began to rail upon me, and threaten me, and said it never did belong to me nor to the Church.
"I then told him that I did not think it worth contending about, that I had no desire to live upon it in its present state, and if he thought he had a better right I would not quarrel with him about it but leave; but my assurance that I would not trouble him at present did not seem to satisfy him, as he seemed determined to quarrel with me, and threatened me with the destruction of my body.
"While he was thus engaged, pouring out his bitter words upon me, a rabble rushed in and nearly filled the barn, drew out their knives, and began to quarrel among themselves for the premises, and for a moment forgot me, at which time I took the opportunity to walk out of the barn about up to my ankles in mud.
"When I was a little distance from the barn, I heard them screeching and screaming in a very distressed manner, as it appeared they had engaged in a general fight with their knives. While they were thus engaged, the dream or vision ended." (Joseph Smith, HC 6:33)
In the end, Joseph and Hyrum were taken out of their midst and the Holy Priesthood also, and what remained was the gospel of repentance which would allow a man to come into the presence of angels who would give them further light and knowledge. Yet, it seems we neglect even what remains. We are dead-set on worshipping our idols.
1. "Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered." (Luke 11:52)
2. First conference of the church which was organized on April 6, 1830. The conference was held on June 9, 1830. See minutes of the first conference here.
3. It might be a profitable exercise to open the Journal of Discourses some time and search for references to the Book of Mormon.
4. "My beloved brethren and sisters, for some years now I have been deeply concerned that we are not using the Book of Mormon as God intends. As I participated in the Mexico City Temple dedication, I received the distinct impression that God is not pleased with our neglect of the Book of Mormon." (Ezra Taft Benson, A New Witness for Christ, October 1984)
5. "Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances. They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble." (D&C 101:6-7)
"In 1830 the Lord called the church 'true and living' (D&C 1:30). By 1832 the Lord stated that the church is 'condemned' (D&C 84:54-57). By 1841 the Lord says He has taken the fullness of the priesthood away from the church (D&C 124:28). The Lord promised that if we did not repent, we would 'by [our] own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord.' (v. 48)." (Daniel Rogers)