“They Heard a Voice as If It Came Out of Heaven”

Brant Gardner

The imagery of the “small voice” that requires that we open our ears to hear is one that continues to instruct us in the way that we listen to God. Elder Eyring developed this imagery of the small voice in a conference talk in 1991:

“It is the Spirit which will bear record to your heart as you read the scriptures, as you hear the Lord’s authorized servants, and as God speaks directly to your heart. You can listen and hear if you believe that the scriptures are accurate when they describe the Holy Ghost this way:

“Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest.” (DC 85:6)

Now, I testify it is a small voice. It whispers, not shouts. And so you must be very quiet inside. That is why you may wisely fast when you want to listen. And that is why you will listen best when you feel, “Father, thy will, not mine, be done.” You will have a feeling of “I want what you want.” Then, the still small voice will seem as if it pierces you. It may make your bones to quake. More often it will make your heart burn within you, again softly, but with a burning which will lift and reassure.

You will act after you have listened because when you hear his voice by the Spirit you will always feel that you are impelled to do something. (Henry B. Eyring. “To Draw Closer to God.” Conference Report, Ensign May 1991, p. 67).

Textual: The construction of the text is obvious in these verses. The people are conversing with one another and they hear something. They do not understand once. They hear a second time and do not understand. The third time they hear.

This is another repetition of the symbolic three in Nephi’s account. We had three hours, even though he couldn’t mark hours. We had three days, even though there was no way to tell the difference between day and night. Now we have three times that the voice comes. This triple occurrence of the voice stands in dramatic contrast to the universally heard voice at the end of the destruction. After the world had fallen apart, after there were tremendous noises so that they might even have had ringing in their ears, during the ending of the thick and fearful darkness, the people hear the voice of God. They hear it the first time, and they hear it clearly.

Now they are quietly conversing, and appear to be faithful. Yet the must wait three times, and then hear only when they “did open their ears to hear it.” Nephi is telling us both that this is another “three” occasion that points to the Messiah. The number three has tended to occur in the Book of Mormon in symbolic contexts revolving around the Atoning Messiah. Nephi is also telling us that the people had to believe before they could have this manifestation.

This idea that they had to have faith to see the Lord is echoed later by Moroni:

Ether 12:7

7 For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

This point also becomes an issue in the timing, with Brown suggesting that time was required to develop faith, and Tvedtnes noting that only some required faith according to the text, and certainly some did ((S. Kent Brown. From Jerusalem to Zarahemla. Brigham Young University, Provo, 1998, p. 149-50).; John A. Tvetdnes. The Most Correct Book. Cornerstone, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, 1999, pp. 265).

Two things allow us to come down in favor of Brown’s reading of the time. The first is Nephi’s symbolic construction that echoes the statement that the people had to come to faith. The second is the very words of the Messiah during the destruction. The message at that time was one of repentance (see 3 Nephi 9:20-22, 3 Nephi 10:4-7). The message to repent is hardly required if the only survivors are true believers. The message to repent would not make much sense if they were not given time to allow for repentance.

Regardless of the way this passage is used in the timing discussion, it is still important to recognize in it the intentional construction of the author. This is a scene that is presented to lead us to the more important event that is announced by that voice.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon