A longtime reader of this blog got an email from an acquaintance asking him if he believes that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet.
The content of the email is as follows:
We have never discussed your position regarding Joseph Smith but I’m told you believe him to be a fallen prophet.
Would you be willing to email me about your perspective regarding JS and how he fell as a prophet, assuming I have been informed correctly?
I’m sure your time is very valuable so as an alternative would you mind sharing any links you believe would do your position justice that I could investigate on my own.
Either way, I appreciate you considering my request.
Here is the response that was provided
[Editorial Note: I have taken the liberty of making a few modifications and additions for further clarification]
I think the term “fallen prophet” is a very confusing term.
I kind of wish Joseph Smith would have never introduced that term because people assume that it implies that a true prophet falls from grace and never returns into a state of grace.
I am not convinced that is what the term refers to.
I am aware of several ancient prophets that sinned, but I am not convinced any of them became unredeemable and could not be restored to a state of grace.
Countless prophecies reveal that Joseph Smith would stumble and then recover. One of them is in Isaiah 49. In that Davidic Lamentation we are informed that God’s latter day servant fails to gather Israel and laments about it, then the Lord assures him that he will yet gather Israel.
Several passages inform us that Joseph Smith is a “type and shadow” of Moses. (He is one like unto Moses)
As a latter-day Moses, Joseph Smith mirrored (or will mirror in the future) every major event that took place in the life of Moses.
The mistake that most people make when comparing Joseph Smith to Moses is that they only remember the positive and faith-promoting aspects of the life and ministry of Moses.
However, one of the most prominent and profound events in the life of Moses is when he committed a grievous sin of idolatry before the Lord. ( when he struck the rock with his staff and took credit for the miracle instead of sanctifying the Lord (giving credit to the Lord) as commanded. By so doing, he enticed the Children of Israel to put their trust in him, instead of God)
Because of that sin, the Lord told Moses that he could not cross over the river Jordan into the promised land with the Children of Israel.
He also informed Moses that he needed to forfeit his life.
Little is mentioned about how the Lord took Moses life, although Jude informs us that Michael the Archangel contended with the Devil in a disputation over the body of Moses.
As with many narratives in the Bible, there is a deeper narrative that sheds light on that surface narrative about the sin of Moses and the explanation about why Moses sinned.
The story behind the story is that prior to Moses’ committing this grievous sin, as he was walking down the mountain with the tablets containing the higher law, the Lord informed Moses that the Children of Israel had “corrupted themselves”.
Moses then observed that the Children of Israel were committing idolatry and worshipping a golden calf.
Because of this Moses made the following declaration to the Children of Israel:
“Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.”
Moses knew this transgression would bring the wrath of God down upon the Children of Israel. Indeed, the Lord informed Moses that he was going to CONSUME the Children of Israel off of the face of the earth.
In response to that grievous sin, Moses petitioned the Lord and offered HIMSELF as an INTERCESSORY “ATONEMENT” OFFERING in behalf of the apostate Children of Israel.
The details about this negotiation between Moses and God are quite impressive and revealing. The reader is encouraged to read the account for themselves.
Again, when Moses first intervened on behalf of the Children of Israel, the Lord exclaimed that he was going to consume the Children of Israel from off the face of the earth. He also stated that he would use Moses and his posterity to make a great nation:
“Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.”
One might assume that such a response from the Lord would be acceptable to Moses and would take a great burden off of him. After all, he had labored painstakingly with the ungrateful, murmuring, and unbelieving Children of Israel and now was being told by the Lord that he would no longer need to labor with them and that his posterity would become a great nation.
In the act of compassion that is a type and shadow of the infinite atonement that would eventually be provided by Christ, Moses continued to intervene and negotiate with the Lord on behalf of Israel.
Although all atonement offerings before this time had to do with birds, animals, and precious metals, Moses offered HIMSELF up as an atonement offering.
This was the declaration Moses made to the Children of Israel:
“Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.”
The terms of the atonement offering that Moses suggested when the Lord did not initially agree to forgive the transgression of Israel, is beyond my comprehension:
“..blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”
I don’t pretend to fully understand what Moses actually meant by that negotiation. It seems incomprehensible to me that Moses would forfeit his salvation in behalf of such a rebellious people.
It appears as if the Lord did not accept those terms. The Lord declared that it would not be Moses’ name that would be blotted out of the book, it would be those that had sinned:
“And the Lord said unto Moses, whosoever hath sinned against me, him w will I blot out of my book..”
Nevertheless, God accepted the intervention of Moses and withheld his wrath from consuming the children of Israel at that time.
However, the Lord’s wrath upon ancient Israel was only delayed until the day of visitation in the last days.
“..nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.”
A contextual study of this narrative and the events associated with it indicates to me that as a result of this intercession made by Moses, the sins of Israel were temporarily placed upon Moses and Aaron and they acted out the sins committed by the Children of Israel.
The Old Testament documents that when Moses and the Children of Israel arrived at the Jordan River, the Lord allowed Moses to climb a mountain and gaze over upon the land of promise that he was being prevented to enter. At that point, Moses pleaded with the Lord to change his mind and allow him to cross the Jordan and enter the land with the Children of Israel.
The Lord would not change the terms of the consequences of Moses’ sin.
Moses was not allowed to accompany Israel across the river into the promised land. Moses was directed by the Lord to go to the bottom of the mount wherein his life would come to an end.
Despite this abrupt ending to the life of Moses because of the sin that he committed, the scriptures and the Lord make it clear that Moses did not fall from grace. He continues to be revered by the Lord and the Lord’s future servants as a great prophet.
In the latter days, Moses was sent to Joseph and Oliver as a ministering angel ( Section 110).
Several prophecies in the Old Testament prophesy that in the latter days, there would be a prophet that would once again offer himself up as an atonement offering. One of them notes that the latter-day servant would not depart from the mercy of the Lord despite committing a great sin and being chastised by the rod of men:
“If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
15 But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.”
Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls prophesy about a latter-day servant that would make an atonement offering for the children of Israel.
Unlike the atonement that would be made by Christ, the atonement offering made by this latter-day servant would be a temporal one for the sins of his generation.
In addition to the sin offering made by the servant, people would invent lots of lies and shameful things about him.
This servant would one day ARISE after making his atonement.
It would be during a time of lying and violence and great wrath. At that time, the servant would overthrow his generation:
It is my belief that Joseph Smith is the latter-day servant that offered himself as an atonement offering like unto Moses.
He experienced a very similar scenario with Latter-day Israel, as the one that Moses had with ancient Israel.
Just as Moses attempted to deliver the higher law and get the Children of Israel to repent and see the face of God, Joseph Smith also attempted to get the Children of Israel to live the law of God and behold his face.
Just as Moses sinned before God after offering an atonement on behalf of the Children of Israel, Joseph Smith did also.
Just as Moses delivered the Children of Israel out of bondage with a stretched out arm, ancient prophecy informs us that a latter day servant will once again lead latter day Israel out of bondage with an outstretched arm.
Modern scripture agrees with this and identifies Joseph Smith as the latter day Moses that returns with power and an outstretched arm.
Notice how the ancient scriptural texts regarding the “stretched out arm of Moses” in leading the Children of Israel out of bondage compare to the keywords in the prophecy in the scriptural text referring to how Joseph Smith will lead latter-day Israel out of Bondage with a stretched out arm:
|The Stretched Out Arm of Moses
Exodus & Deuteronomy
|The Stretched Out Arm of Joseph Smith
6 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:
34 Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
19 The great temptations which thine eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the Lord thy God brought thee out: so shall the Lord thy God do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid.
2 And know ye this day: for I speak not with your children which have not known, and which have not seen the chastisement of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand, and his stretched out arm,
|15 Behold, I say unto you, the redemption of Zion must needs come by power;
16 Therefore, I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel.
17 For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm.
18 And as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be.
19 Therefore, let not your hearts faint, for I say not unto you as I said unto your fathers: Mine angel shall go up before you, but not my presence.
20 But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land.
21 Verily, verily I say unto you, that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., is the man to whom I likened the servant to whom the Lord of the vineyard spake in the parable which I have given unto you.
22 Therefore let my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., say unto the strength of my house, my young men and the middle aged—Gather yourselves together unto the land of Zion, upon the land which I have bought with money that has been consecrated unto me.
23 And let all the churches send up wise men with their moneys, and purchase lands even as I have commanded them.
24 And inasmuch as mine enemies come against you to drive you from my goodly land, which I have consecrated to be the land of Zion, even from your own lands after these testimonies, which ye have brought before me against them, ye shall curse them;
25 And whomsoever ye curse, I will curse, and ye shall avenge me of mine enemies.
26 And my presence shall be with you even in avenging me of mine enemies, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
27 Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again.
28 And whoso is not willing to lay down his life for my sake is not my disciple.
A comparison of the above passages clearly establishes Joseph Smith as the servant that will lead latter-day Israel out of bondage with power and a stretched out arm just as Moses did anciently. An all-knowing God who has the past, present, and future continually before his eyes has given an unconditional promise.
I believe that a close examination of the life and ministry of Joseph Smith parallels the narrative found in the life and ministry of Moses.
After Joseph Smith restored the scriptures and the LAW and built the Kirtland Temple, the latter-day saints rejected the law.
Following that, Joseph offered an acceptable offering unto the Lord just as Moses had done anciently. In so doing, the sins of Israel were placed upon him as the intercessor just as they had been placed upon Moses. Because of this, Joseph began acting out the very sins that latter-day Israel had been guilty of committing just as Moses had previously acted out.
Other teachings and practices during the Nauvoo period that were incongruent with the pure and simple fulness of the Gospel that was introduced a decade earlier could be sited but for now, this will suffice.
Just as there was a secret narrative behind the sin of Moses, the same was true of the sins committed by Joseph Smith.
Before the later years in Nauvoo, the latter-day Saints became an apostate people just as ancient Israel did. The entire church was condemned by the Lord in 1834 and they were rejected as a church with their dead in 1841.