Elijah and the Sealing Power

February 6, 2009 | 13 comments
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I’ve been thinking about this week’s Relief Society lesson.

The lesson states:

Elijah came to commit to Joseph and Oliver the keys of sealing—the power to bind and validate in the heavens all ordinances performed on the earth.

It is interesting to me that it was Elijah who had this role in the Restoration. (Why not Peter, who–according to LDS thought–also had that sealing power after it was given him on the Mount of Transfiguration? Is it because Elijah had not “tasted death”? But how then can John the Baptist–who did more than taste death–restore power?)

We usually look to this verse from 1 Kings 17:1 as the boldest hint of Elijah’s sealing power:

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.

. . . because it shows Elijah “sealing” the heavens. Get it? We “seal” marriages like he “sealed” the heavens.

I always thought that that was a bit of a stretch, to be honest. Not that I doubted that Elijah had that power or restored it to Joseph Smith, but rather that Elijah was the one chosen for this mission because of his supernal use of the sealing power in sealing the heavens.

I was reading through some great posts on Elijah over at FPR (thanks, Mogs) when I found this; it is commentary on the climax of the story where Elijah raises from the dead the son of the widow of Zarephath:

The amazing thing is what the narrator next says (v. 22): “And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah…” If the subject and object of this sentence were reversed, we would say that Elijah heard the voice of the Lord and we would quite properly understand that Elijah obeyed God. Shall we say the same of the original configuration? Did God obey Elijah?

Did God obey Elijah? If Elijah were exercising the power to bind (or, perhaps in this case, we might phrase it: loose from death), then God would be “obeying” Elijah in the sense that “whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18). I’m not comfortable with the language of God “obeying,” and yet I think it is used appropriately here inasmuch as it suggests the binding aspect of the sealing power.

Taking 17:22 as the urtext for an example of Elijah’s sealing power makes at least as much sense as taking 17:1. (Although I’m not denying that 17:1 is a use of priesthood power.) The context of 17:22 is that a widow, in a time of famine, is asked to give her very last morsel of food not to her son, but rather to a strange man who shows up (probably looking decently well-fed, what with the ravens and all) and asks for food. To be fair, v9 implies that the woman has received a revelation before Elijah shows up telling her to feed him, but still . . . how many of you would give the last bit of food you had to a random dude instead of to your son?

But she did.

And the food miraculously multiplied.

If this were a sitcom, that would be the end of the story. But this is the Old Testament, so her son dies. She’s mad (v18). (I would have been, too.)

Elijah prays for the boy’s life to be returned to him and the Lord listens to him (=obeys him).

The text then reads:

And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.

. . . which sounds an awful lot like an example of “turn[ing] the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”

The story ends with this statement of testimony from the widow:

And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.

(Sidenote: pretty dang impressive that she fed him at a time when she didn’t know that he was a man of God, but was working off faith in the revelation that she had received.)

I wonder if this statement of testimony has any relationship to “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse,” the phrase that follows on the one about turning of the hearts. I’ve always wondered about the curse, and what exactly it meant. (Is it just the curse of not being sealed as families, or is there something in addition to that?) If we think of the woman’s testimony that comes after the hearts have been turned, we might see the curse as the absence of that testimony that comes as a result of hearts being turned.

In other words, the blessings of the sealing power strengthen testimonies. Those testimonies allow us to escape the curse.

13 Responses to Elijah and the Sealing Power

  1. Adam Greenwood on February 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks, JMS.

  2. Matt Stevens on February 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Julie,

    Wonderful juxtaposition of the two passages! I am currently the head research assistant for my wife who is a new teacher in the Relief Society and her first lesson will be this lesson from the Joseph Smith manual on Elijah and the Sealing Keys.

    I have a question for you (and any other with an answer). Having read the chapter and related scriptures, I am reaching for great questions for discussion. Part of my problem is my absence of familiarity with Relief Society lessons. I know something about teaching Sunday School or Elders’ Quorum but would feel lost with the Sisters. I can see the obvious discussions on eternal families, the Priesthood and the sealing keys, the Restoration, etc. How can these themes best be discussed in the Relief Society, especially in the context of Joseph’s words from the lesson?

    Much obliged.

  3. dan r on February 6, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    fantastic. thank you.

  4. LRC on February 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Matt Stevens –

    Why do you think an RS lesson needs to be different from an EQ lesson? Or, maybe, why should questions asked by a teacher in RS be different from questions asked by a teacher in EQ or SS?

  5. Catania on February 6, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Another one with sealing power was Nephi:

    “And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. Behold I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; …” (Helaman 10:6-7).

    It is also probable that Nephi was translated. (See 3 Nephi 1:3 and for cross reference Alma 45:18-19). Anyways…the points I’d like to make are

    1. When someone is close enough to God to be endowed with the sealing power, then He will not ask that which is against the Lord’s will. It isn’t that God is obeying Elijah in the same sense that we obey God. It is that God has entrusted Elijah because Elijah has proven himself to be a worthy servant.

    2. (i’m speculating here)…Many men have held the keys of Sealing Power, but it was only the role of one man to restore it – and that was Elijah. I’m not sure why it was Elijah, but that was his job. Peter, John the Baptist, Moroni, Moses etc. they had other roles to perform. There are many things that needed to happen in the restoration of the Gospel, and these things all have been fulfilled by various servants of God.

    oh – and the curse thing, (I’ve thought about that a lot, too)…I think that we tend to underestimate the importance of eternal families and the bonds created when we make covenants with the Lord. If we remember that the Lord’s work and glory is OUR immortality and eternal life, then I think that we can begin to see why the Spirit of Elijah is so important. Because of Christ, we are all given the gift of Immortality. However, we can only acheive eternal life when we make the new and everlasting covenant with our Father in Heaven. And there are so many people who have lived in this world who have not yet had the chance to make this covenant. Without the restoration of these Sealing keys, the whole earth would have been utterly wasted at the Coming of Christ – since none of us would be able to make the covenants required for our eternal salvation.

    okay…thanks…sorry for such a long comment.

  6. Matt Stevens on February 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    LRC,

    My sources say that many of the comments in Relief Society center on personal experiences and their relationship to gospel principles. My experience in EQ is that discussions on the Presidents of the Church lessons center much more on doctrinal points and commentary. Point being (and I realize this is a generalization and not always the case), men seem more comfortable sharing doctrinal commentary over personal narrative. This may be unique to our ward dynamic but I suspect something of this trend could be found elsewhere. I really hoped to hear specifically what discussion points would be relevant for this lesson in EQ or RS. I do think there is some difference in what my wife thinks is a good discussion and what I think.

  7. m&m on February 8, 2009 at 2:46 am

    Why not Peter, who–according to LDS thought–also had that sealing power after it was given him on the Mount of Transfiguration?

    We read something in the BD dictionary tonite (hubby is giving this lesson tomorrow, so we studied this topic as a family — but now I can’t remember which entry it was) about how Moses and Elijah’s presence and involvement on the Mount of Transfiguration was significant in part because it signified the bringing together of multiple dispensations. (The Savior could have given the keys, but Moses and Elijah were delegated that responsibility, for some reason — in Christ’s day and in ours.)

    Anyway, dunno if that would apply to this dispensation, but I thought that was interesting and I thought of this discussion.

  8. Jonovitch on February 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I had the same thoughts as Catania (5) — perhaps Elijah had grown so close to God that Elijah’s will was virtually indistinguishable with God’s will. That is our ultimate goal, right? To become one with him (even as the Son is one with the Father)?

    So it’s not a matter of God obeying Elijah, rather of if what Elijah would do was a reflection of what God would do. (See also the “quantum entanglement and the atonement” post from a couple weeks ago: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2009/01/spooky-action-at-a-distance/)

    Jon

  9. Jonovitch on February 8, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Regarding the children/fathers scripture, I noticed last week for the first time the real difference between the Malachi version and the Moroni version:

    “He shall plant in the hearts of the children *the promises made* to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.”

    This clarified quite a bit for me (the verse has always kept me guessing as to its meaning).

    To wit: the promises (or covenants and teachings) of the fathers (or our ancestry, the prior inhabitants of the land, God’s chosen people) will again be taught to the children (or the new inhabitants, the “Gentiles,” us modern folk), and the hearts of the children (modern “Gentiles”) will turn to their fathers (to reach back through time and reclaim the teachings, ordinances, and covenants given to them).

    And if it were so that in the last days, us modern people hadn’t returned to the ancient and eternal covenants made between God and his people from the beginning, then Christ would come again, and finding no worthy person, the entire Earth — every one of us heathens — would be destroyed.

    Moroni was telling Joseph that this scripture was about to be fulfilled, in that Elijah was about to come again to “reveal the Priesthood” to him. Joseph was about to start the work of planting the promises that were made to our forefathers into the hearts of us, the children. He was about to restore the gospel, along with its ancient covenants and ordinances, so that when Christ returns, he will find that some of his children had turned their hearts to their fathers, and ultimately to the Father.

    It makes so much sense to me now! This was an incredible insight for me. (At least this is my interpretation — take what you will from it.)

    Jon

  10. Jonovitch on February 8, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Further clarification came after I read D&C 2, then D&C 3 right after it. I got to verses 19 and 20, and insight just came pouring in. Note the repeated mention of “fathers” and “promises”:

    16 Nevertheless, my work shall go forth, for inasmuch as the knowledge of a Savior has come unto the world, through the testimony of the Jews, even so shall the knowledge of a Savior come unto my people—
    17 And to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers—
    18 And this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations.
    19 And for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people;
    20 And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved. Amen.

    It all makes sense to me now. As if God had hidden it in plain sight, just waiting for me to make sense of it.

    Jon

  11. Alison Moore Smith on February 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Julie, thanks for making me think, as usual.

  12. Brian Duffin on February 9, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Great post, Julie. I need to file this one away for future reference and a more in-depth reading.

  13. diligentdave on February 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I realize my comment here is probably too late for most who give/gave this particular lesson. But Malachi’s prophecy had a profound effect on the Jews, as did Elijah’s life. The mighty works (miracles) Elijah wrought approached, and in some cases, exceeded that/those of Moses. When Jesus himself performed works, Peter tells us that some of the Jews of that day said that he (Jesus) was Elijah. Not a small thing.

    Jews believe that Elijah will appear just before, and possibly even with, the Messiah when he comes. It is a custom in Jewish homes at passover to leave the door ajar, and leave a place at the table for Elijah to come and partake.

    It is of no small significance then, on the one day in 1833 years (100 saros – a ‘saros’ is an astronomical measurement of 18 years 11 days 8 hours, when the sun, earth and moon are all in the same position relative to each other. John P Pratt, a Church member and astronomer, pointed out in a 2-part article in the Ensign (“The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836, Part 2: Symbolism of Passover and of Elijah’s Return” – Ensign, July 1985 – which is accessible at lds.org OR simply at— http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=f84f8949f2f6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1 ) may show how truly God knows with precision events that will occur millennia before they occur. In parts 1 and 2 of his very good article. Starting with Abraham, according to the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham apparently went to Egypt not only to escape a famine in Caanan, but also to teach Egyptian royalty about or more about astronomy. Note this verse—

    “31 But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.”

    (Pearl of Great Price | Abraham 1:31)

    The end of chapter 2 of the book of Abraham concludes with instructions regarding Sarai (Sarah) before going into Egypt. Sarai’s (Sarah’s) beauty benefited not only Abraham, eventually (though it was clearly also a hazard to be married to such a “knock out”), because it caused them to be taken to the court of Pharoah.

    John Pratt argues that Abraham (likely) taught much astronomy to the Egyptian royal house. Note what a wondrous, and yet still small glimpse is given in Abraham 3 of God instructing Abraham in the nighttime more about astronomy, among other subjects. (Note how Abraham begins the revelation by seeing things in/through the Urim and Thummim, and ends up seeing things with the Lord’s hand over his eyes, in the nightime, with his hand showing Abraham, in an act dripping drenched in symbolism, the creations his (the Lord’s) “hands” have made)!

    Brother Pratt supposes this knowledge continued down among Egyptian monarchs (even though there were changes) several hundred years to the time of Moses – who was, as you remember, raised by an Egyptian princess as her own in the Royal Court—where, if John Pratt’s theory holds true, he very likely would have received instruction on the subject of astronomy. And, when, at age 80, Moses returns to deliver the Israelites from bondage, he establishes God’s law, known ostensibly as “the law of Moses”. With feasts, etc established according to a pattern Moses may have picked in astronomy lessons as a prince in Egypt (from revelations relayed to the Egyptians by Moses’ progenitor, Abraham)! (Of course, Moses had his own tete-a-tete on the creation from the Lord himself, as we find in the restored Genesis account given in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price).

    Making some suppositions, John Pratt says that April 3, 1836 was the first time in 100 saros that passover and Easter had likely coincided since (I believe) the Savior’s crucifixion! A “century of saros” as he calls it!

    This implies that not only does God know the end from the beginning, but he knows everything in between!

    Just writing this, I found the connection between Elijah appearing in the Kirtland Temple to restore his keys to Joseph and Oliver after Moses had also appeared and restored his keys (as well as the Savior, at first, and ‘Elias’ / Noah? – a man of God who lived in the days of Abraham).

    Therefore, the prophecy of Elijah’s return and restoration was the culminating restoration after Moses and Elias also appeared and restored their keys (regarding, respectively, the gathering of Israel, and the keys of the covenants of Abraham), and the prophecy, without mentioning them, obviously encompasses them.

    John the Baptist, a figure the Savior tied to Elijah during his (the Savior’s) mortal ministry to his (the Savior’s) disciples, had also come prior and restored his (Aaronic Priesthood) keys. And, also, the early First Presidency, Peter, James and John, came prior to Elijah, some seven years before, like John the Baptist, and likewise restored the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    Elijah’s being carried into heaven via a chariot and horse of fire and a ‘whirlwind’ (tornado) is the most dramatic mortality ending “acension” we find in all of ‘Old Testament’ history. Since he left with “fireworks”, his return (as promised by the last known prophet of OT times, Malachi) portends a return with “fireworks”. I am here reminded of a pattern made evident by another whose ascension into heaven was likewise glorious—

    “6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

    7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

    8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

    9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

    10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;

    11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? THIS SAME JESUS, WHICH IS TAKEN UP FROM YOU INTO HEAVEN, SHALL SO COME IN LIKE MANNER AS YE HAVE SEEN HIM GO INTO HEAVEN.”

    (New Testament | Acts 1:6 – 11)

    Two ascended “in fire”. Perhaps two (or a lot more) shall likewise descend “in fire”!?!