“Choose the Lord and His Prophet,” Liahona, June 2022.
There is a pivotal moment in the Old Testament that, like many moments in that record, has always given me pause. It occurred following the leadership of the incomparable Moses and his devoted young successor, Joshua.
Despite miracles on every side and divine intervention in their quest to regain the lands of their fathers, the children of Israel were rebuked for embracing the pagan practices common to those who had been living in those lands.
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim:
“And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger” (Judges 2:11–12).
Even in his anger, Jehovah showed compassion by raising “up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them” (Judges 2:16). The greatest of all those judges was Samuel. Called by the Lord as a mere child, he grew into the judgeship so successfully that he was sustained by all Israel “to be a prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:20).
Israel was, or so it appeared, back in God’s graces, returning to and sustaining again the fully prophetic leadership they had not known—and did not want—since the death of Joshua. And what an impact this return to prophetic leadership had upon their fortune.
Under the prophet-judge leadership of Samuel, Jehovah smote and “thundered with a great thunder” upon Israel’s enemies (1 Samuel 7:10). Historically, as long as Israel heeded Jehovah’s counsel through His prophets, triumph and prosperity followed.
But eventually—and this part amazes me—Israel grew weary of Samuel’s judgeship. They considered him and his leadership outdated and behind the times. After all, the elders of Israel told him, “thou art old” (1 Samuel 8:5). And, in their minds, so was the idea of a judge, even if he was also a prophet. It was time to reject ecclesiastical anachronisms and adopt the more fashionable ways of the world. It was time for a king.
“Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations,” they cried (1 Samuel 8:5), with the lesson that we should be careful what we wish for because we are likely to get it. When Samuel prayed about this request, Jehovah told him, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).
Of course, as noted above, this wasn’t the first time Israel had shown disdain for Jehovah and His prophets.
“According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee,” the Lord told Samuel (1 Samuel 8:8). Then, in a forthright demonstration of justice, the Lord told him to “hearken unto their voice” (1 Samuel 8:9) but to warn the people of the ways of unrighteous kings.
Obeying, Samuel foretold of abuse of power and threats to family and property. In informing Israel that their wish had been granted, he warned in prophecy:
“Ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
“That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:18–20).
The painful irony here is that they already had a king who went before them and fought their battles. He was Jehovah, King of all, but no longer would they have Jehovah to rule over them. No longer would they have Him to fight their battles. And consistent with the theme of so many history lessons, painful consequences came when it was too late to avoid them. The people later lamented, “We have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king” (1 Samuel 12:19).
As members of this same house of Israel broadly defined, we have been commanded not to be just like other people, not to be just like the world. But like God’s people in the days of Samuel, we face the strong pull to be like those of lesser ways, those overcome by worldly fad in behavior or belief.
“For true believers,” Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “the tugs and pulls of the world—including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence—have always been there. Now, however, many once-helpful support systems are bent or broken. Furthermore, the harmful things of the world are marketed by pervasive technology and hyped by a media barrage, potentially reaching almost every home and hamlet.”1
And what are some of those “harmful things of the world”? Look around. Celebrity worshipping, materialism, self-interest, and some elements of fashion—in sweet, plain old hedonism—threaten our spiritual sensitivity each time we turn on the television, conduct an online search, or step out the front door.
We have been called to separate ourselves from wickedness (see Alma 5:57) and to be spiritual leaven to the world without becoming spiritually leveled by the world.
“When men say unto us, ‘you are not like us,’ we reply ‘we know it; we do not want to be,’” said President John Taylor (1808–87). “We want to be like the Lord, we want to secure His favor and approbation and to live under His smile, and to acknowledge, as ancient Israel did on a certain occasion ‘The Lord is our God, our judge and our king, and He shall reign over us.’”2
By revelation, the Lord commands us to “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:10). We have help in that task. For though we live in a confused, contentious, and commotion-filled world, because of divine direction, we need not “live without God in the world” (Mosiah 27:31).
Having served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for nearly three decades, I can testify that the wise men who lead The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a grasp of moral and social issues exceeding that of any think tank or brain trust on earth. Our lives, travels, and breadth of background give us a view of the world that few others experience.
When we couple that collective experience with the mantle of our apostolic ministry, we can and do declare to the world that the restored Church of Jesus Christ is led by prophecy, seership, and revelation. The light that comes from that divine direction will guide modern Israel through the spiritual and physical dangers of a darkening world.
“Every time in my life when I have chosen to delay following inspired counsel or decided that I was an exception, I came to know that I had put myself in harm’s way,” said President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. “Every time that I have listened to the counsel of prophets, felt it confirmed in prayer, and then followed it, I have found that I moved toward safety.”3
Prophets have no greater concern than to lead God’s children to the Savior Jesus Christ, who will, as He did for the willing and obedient anciently, take them to the promised land. But to delay obedience to prophetic counsel or reject it is to put our lives at peril.
The time for the people to repent came before Noah hammered his first nail into what would become the ark. The time for the children of Israel to remember their covenant with Jehovah came before Moses descended Mount Sinai and broke the tablets of stone. The time for Samuel’s contemporaries to reject the idea of a king came before Samuel warned them of their unwise demand.
In our day, the Lord has said of His anointed:
“Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5).
Like Samuel, today’s prophets, seers, and revelators are men of wisdom, much of which can be acquired only with age. President Russell Marion Nelson is 97. As we review his inspired leadership, there is no doubt we have a prophet in Israel. Consider just a few examples of his loving counsel and direction:
President Nelson has called upon us “to increase [our] spiritual capacity to receive revelation,” warning that “it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”4
He has led the Church in implementing “a newer, holier approach to caring for and ministering to others.”5
He has led us through a pandemic, helping us adjust to “a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.”6
He has focused our Sunday worship on the sacrament and our Sunday behavior on keeping the Sabbath day holy.7
He has accelerated temple work, announcing the construction of more than 80 new latter-day temples.
He has asked us “to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church,” promising that “He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.”8
He has pleaded with us to “experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day.”9
He has encouraged the Saints to “Hear Him,” which is “the pattern for success, happiness, and joy in this life.”10
He has delivered a bicentennial proclamation to the world, inviting all to know “that the heavens are open” and “that God is making known His will for His beloved sons and daughters.”11
He has invited the Saints to “embrace the future with faith” in the Lord Jesus Christ, which “unlocks the power of God in our lives.”12
President Nelson has declared: “Prophets see ahead. They see the harrowing dangers the adversary has placed or will yet place in our path. Prophets also foresee the grand possibilities and privileges awaiting those who listen with the intent to obey.”13
I testify that President Nelson was foreordained to become “a watchman on the tower” (2 Kings 9:17) for our day:
A prophet who calls us
To let God prevail
And to gather Israel
On both sides of the veil.14
We sing with enthusiasm the resounding hymn “Israel, Israel, God Is Calling.”15 May we as Latter-day Saints answer that call the way the boy Samuel did on his way to serving in his maturity as God’s prophet: “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:9; see also verse 10).