Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God just like Moses, Abraham, or Peter. As prophets sometimes tend to do, every now and again Joseph prophesied. Many of his prophecies are quite astounding, and some are more confusing. We’re going to take a look at some of them, after the intro video.
Did you know that Joseph Smith prophesied specifically about the Civil War (and probably World War 1)? It’s recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 87. He said the Northern and Southern states would be divided against each other and that war would break out in South Carolina, which it did at Fort Sumter in 1861, some twenty years after Joseph Smith’s death.
On a separate occasion, Joseph Smith prophesied in one meeting, “Forty days shall not pass and the stars shall fall from heaven.” A skeptic in the congregation jotted down the prophecy looking forward to proving Joseph a false prophet. 39 nights later, the skeptic watched as the 1833 Leonid Meteor Shower happened before his eyes. Some sources report 100 to 200 thousand meteors falling per hour.
Before Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, he also prophesied that his friend, Willard Richards, would be safe while bullets “would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment.” Willard was imprisoned with Joseph in Carthage, along with Hyrum Smith and John Taylor. Joseph and Hyrum were killed. John was shot in four places. And Willard was untouched.
But not all of Joseph’s prophecies have been that spectacular or clear. Modern critics cite several examples of prophecies they claim went unfulfilled. For example, Doctrine and Covenants 84 prophecies that a temple will be built in Missouri “in this generation.” Joseph’s generation passed. No temple. What gives?
We’ll use this scenario to showcase a few principles that are important to understand when it comes to prophesy, though not all of them will apply to this example.
First, the wording of Missouri temple prophecy echoes one given by Christ in Matthew 24. Christ lists a bunch of signs that will appear before and at the Second Coming: The sun will go dark, Christ will descend from the sky, angels with appear, the whole shabang. Then Christ says, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” This gave many the impression that the Second Coming would happen in their lifetime. It didn’t. Was Christ a false prophet? Of course not. It just suggests that maybe the word “generation” shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as a certain number of years. Sort of how a “day” to God could be a thousand years to us.
Second, it’s hard sometimes to differentiate between a prophecy and a commandment. For example, if your kid is being a punk and you say “You will clean your room,” is that a prophecy or a commandment? Sometimes the line isn’t so clear. And based on Doctrine and Covenants 124, I personally think this temple “prophecy” was more of a commandment.
Third, sometimes it’s easy to mistake a prophet’s personal opinion for a prophecy. I don’t think that’s what’s happening in this temple prophecy but in some others it is.
Fourth, many prophecies, including many of Joseph Smith’s that people claim to be “failed” are conditional. If this happens, then, this will happen. If the early saints didn’t meet the conditions of some prophecies, they may not have been fulfilled. And sometimes the fact that a prophecy is conditional isn’t always clear. Something like this actually happened with the prophet Jonah at Nineveh. After the fish pukes him up he goes to Nineveh, “and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
He states it as a matter of fact. In 40 days, Nineveh will be gone. There were no conditions explicitly set. But, as it turns out, the prophecy was apparently conditional because the people repented and the city was saved. They lucked out.
Fifth, God can do what He wants, as exemplified in Jeremiah 18 (NIV version): “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”
D&C 105 suggests the Missouri temple commandment wasn’t completed in the early days of the Church because of the disobedience of some of the members.
I wish I had time to go over more of Joseph Smith’s super-awesome prophecies and more of his controversial ones, but at the very least hopefully, you’ve learned a few things and acquired a few tools for analyzing prophecy but from modern and ancient times.