I find it fascinating how the Bible begins and ends with tree imagery. From Genesis to Revelation, the Lord shows us a tree as a central concept relating to redemption, the atonement, and coming back into His presence. The Old Testament begins with a story of Adam and Eve in the garden, facing a tree and a choice. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were in their very midst, and, knowing the cost, they chose to fall from the presence of the Lord that mortal man might be (see 2 Nephi 2:25 and Moses 5:11 – I really like the fact that Eve is the first to give the doctrinal discourse on how the Fall relates to man’s ability to create life!). Eve ate first. Adam, left with the choice of paradise or a person, chose the person. This tells us much about relationships, families, and the value of people in general – but especially families.
When we speak of families, we oftentimes speak in terms of a family tree. Throughout the scriptures, people are compared to trees (see Matthew 7:17; Isaiah 61:3; Daniel 4:10,22; Judges 9; Jacob 5). I believe that this image has deep meaning with multiple layers. It is at the forefront of the Book of Mormon text, as well as in the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants. As has been stated previously, the Bible begins and ends with this image. Many ancient cultures had tree imagery in their sacred texts and edifices. This is not by chance. Echoes of the truths taught to Adam and Eve abound throughout the literature of antiquity.
The Old Testament ends with Malachi telling us of the day when the earth will “burn as an oven” and when “all the proud… all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble… that (they) shall (have) neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). It seems as if the Lord is telling us something of the nature of the family. Families are meant to be eternal, but the wicked will not recognize this as so. Because we live in a fallen world, a world in which Adam’s own posterity did not always follow his example, we have many in the human family who need to be found.
This seems to be the thrust of Malachi’s final testament: that Elijah will come to restore mankind to the knowledge of our ancestors; that we will seek them out, “the heart of the children (shall turn) to their fathers”. I like the way this prophecy reads in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And 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. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2) This prophecy was related by Moroni to a 17 year old boy in 1823. I find it remarkable that this is one of the first recorded revelations in this dispensation. Our understanding of this prophecy came about line upon line. In 1823 I doubt anyone really understood the meaning of what was taking place, yet today we see more clearly Malachi’s message.
If it were not for the work of sealing families, of baptism for the dead, the entire purpose of the earth would have been frustrated. Elijah restored an understanding of why we have the priesthood in the first place. It is for the unifying of families and bringing them back into the presence of the Lord. In the words of Joseph Fielding McConkie, “if we do not accomplish the primary purpose for which we came to mortality, namely the forming of an eternal family unit, we have wasted our lives on matters that are not of eternal importance.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, p. 24)
The video used for teaching Malachi 4 is powerful. The message is clear: Malachi’s message is relevant to young people today. The keys of the priesthood have been restored. Families can be together forever. Today in temples across the earth, families are being sealed by the authority of the priesthood. One student shared, “this message is so important for me to realize that when I get married, it’s forever… so I had better choose well!” It is true we must choose well. In the words of President Monson, once we choose our love, we must “love our choice”. To me that is every bit as critical a message in today’s world of disposable marriages and slippery moral values.
Elijah & the Promises made to the Fathers
Elijah will reveal unto men the priesthood. He will bring again the sealing power. He will authorize mortals to use the priesthood to bind on earth and seal everlastingly in the heavens. He will give the same keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that he gave to Peter, James, and John on the holy mount. Elijah shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers. As Joseph Smith expressed it, “He shall reveal the covenants of the fathers in relation to the children, and the covenants of the children in relation to the fathers.” (Teachings, p. 321.) Who are the fathers? They are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom the promises were made. What are the promises? They are the promises of a continuation of the family unit in eternity; of posterity in numbers as the dust of the earth and the stars in the firmament; of eternal increase; and of the consequent glory, and honor, and exaltation, and eternal life inherent in such a way of eternal existence. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 267.)