Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Moses and Elijah, Malachi and John

Posted by joespencer on December 15, 2007

Since my daughter is asleep in the room right behind me, I can’t really turn on any lights to consult commentaries this morning (I was planning on doing a bit of work on the book business of chapter 5). So instead I’ll take up the Moses/Elijah theme of chapter 11 and do a bit of reflecting on the place of Malachi in relation to the Apocalypse.

And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly. – Revelation 11:3-14

In some sense, the very existence of chapter 11 is a bit of a surprise. Chapter 10 seems, in many ways, to come nicely to a close. And chapter 12, as I’ve been arguing all along, marks the beginning of the “historical” vision. But this is just to say that chapter 11 is transitional, that it links up the two “halves” of the Apocalypse (and quite creatively!): John’s conclusive ordinance is, through the events of the second woe, given a place in relation to the quasi-absolute vision of chapter 12-22. In other words, the Moses/Elijah story that intervenes somehow mediates John’s own visionary position. And this deserves some thought.

Now, first off, why do I say Moses and Elijah? Well, that, I hope, is straightforward enough: the two prophetic figures of chapter 11 are described precisely as Moses and Elijah. They, together, have the power both to seal up the heavens against rain and to smite the earth with plagues (specific mention is made of turning water to blood). It would be easy enough to say, perhaps, that all of this is merely typological, that Moses and Elijah are prophetic types that are being taken up, but I think there is good reason to believe that whoever wrote this material down would have thought otherwise. A couple of points of evidence: the Mount of Transfiguration likewise brings these two figures together precisely; there were traditions aplenty in Second Temple Judaism that both Moses and Elijah were somehow still alive (“translated” in Mormonese); and, of course, there is the striking pairing of these two figures in the last chapter of Malachi (4:4-6). At the very least, there is reason to think about the events described in the passage in terms of these two figures who were understood to be as yet unresurrected and yet somehow still alive.

Of course, uniquely LDS scripture complicates this picture in a number of important ways. A few passages of importance:

Q. What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the eleventh chapter of Revelation? A. They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers. – D&C 77:15

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury—thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling wrung out—And none to guide her among all the sons she hath brought forth; neither that taketh her by the hand, of all the sons she hath brought up. These two sons are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee? Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God. – 2 Nephi 8:17-20 (cf. Isaiah 51:17-20; some important changes are made here)

To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch . . . . The testators are now dead, their testament is in force. – D&C 135:1, 5

What of the scholars (my daughter just woke up and I can get to my books now)? Ford points out that possibility that the two witnesses are those required under Deuteronomic law for the accusation of an adultress (Jerusalem/Israel). Boring suggests that John casts the Church as Moses and Elijah, something that is for a time conquered but then carried off to heaven. Barker toys with the idea that they were John the Baptist and James the Martyr. Since Holzapfel, Wayment, and Huntsman (wisely?) skip over this part of Revelation, I might cite McConkie as presenting the prevailing LDS view: they are to be two selected from the Twelve and the First Presidency who will be on the scene in Jerusalem during events still to come.

Is there any way to begin to make sense of all this? I cited D&C 135 above, not to suggest that Joseph and Hyrum were the two witnesses meant in Revelation, but to suggest that there is some kind of typology at work here (to say the very least!). That, I think, also determines the only way that Jacob’s alteration/adaptation/restoration of (Second) Isaiah can be interpreted fruitfully: the two sons who are come to Jerusalem while all else abandon her are “desolation and destruction,” “the famine and the sword.” Only they do not faint, but they hardly come to gather and restore. In other words, though this snippet in Isaiah is often enough read as another reference to some latter-day event prophesied of in Revelation (a quick glance through LDS Collector’s Library found this interpretation in Hoyt Brewster, Monte Nyman, Victor Ludlow, and even Donald Parry), it might be better to see it as “only” typologically related, to be tied to a similar theme of two sons.

Can we return, so to speak, to Revelation itself with only D&C 77 as a commentary? And if we can, could it not have reference, somehow, to the actual return of Moses and Elijah? Will these two prophets, for example, return to a temple still to be built in Jerusalem, just as they did to the Kirtland House of the Lord? And how might that turn us back to the Book of Malachi here? What, in the end, is the relation between Malachi and Revelation? The measuring of the temple in verses 1-2 could well be taken as an image describing what Malachi does in the first three chapters of his book: he measures up the temple priesthood and condemns them for their infidelity. Is there something to be read in all of this? Perhaps especially in light of the parallel fascination with the book of life (cf. the last verses of Malachi 3)? But I’ve been sitting at the computer too long this morning already, so I’ll ask others to begin providing preliminary answers.

4 Responses to “Moses and Elijah, Malachi and John”

  1. Robert C. said

    Joe, I was thinking you’d take the two trees of Rev 11:4 as a reference to Joseph and Judah, like in Ezekiel 37. Thoughts?

    Also, I got to thinking about the phrase “the law and the prophets”—if the Law was given through Moses is there any reason to think of Elijah as representing the prophets?

    Also, I read something interesting in The Oxford Bible Commentary about Rev 11:1-2 where “given unto the Gentiles” suggests a distinction between the Kingdom and the “outward experience of the church exposed to persecution by the kingdom of the nations,” which reminded me of some of your “four discourses” ideas posted to lds-herm about this kind of a split between the kingdom and the church….

  2. robf said

    The title of this post almost sounds like the start of a bad joke:

    “Moses, Elijah, Malachi, and John walk into a bar…”

  3. Clark said

    The big question is whether they are new figures raised up, much like John is of the type of Elijah (and then the two Elijah problem: Elias and Elijah). Or is this the resurrected Moses and Elijah? (Or someone else – the identity varied somewhat also including Enoch)

    My personal feeling is that these will be new figures who are in the manner of the old.

  4. Joe Spencer said

    Robert, I really like the idea of connecting Ezekiel 37 up with Revelation 11. That deserves further thought for sure. I have definitely thought at some length about the pairing of Moses and Elijah in terms of the law and the prophets, but there is always more to think about there. Perhaps richest here, is this highlighting of the Gentile/Israelite distinction and its connection to the church/kingdom distinction. This might especially be taken up in the context of the Judaizing/Gentilizing of the Church debate during which Barker, at least, sets the writing of the Apocalypse. Hmmm….

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