Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born
This lesson clearly lays out that we existed before we came to this earth, that Abraham and other prophets were taught this (see Abraham 3:22-23, Jeremiah 1:5), that Jesus was foreordained to perform the Atonement and be the Savior for all mankind (Abraham 3:22-23, Moses 4:1-4), and that Lucifer rebelled against Heavenly Father and became Satan (Moses 4:3, Abraham 3:28, Revelation 12:7-9, D&C 76:25-38).
Some questions I would like to ask might include: “What does all of this mean in our lives? How does this information help us in our lives here and how does this information lend itself to a better understanding of the scriptures? What have prophets taught regarding our pre-mortal existence?”
I would invite those that read this to contemplate and give your thoughts regarding why the Lord has chosen to give us this information.
Schooling is Nothing New
One of the great and lesser known quotes regarding our pre-mortal existence comes to us from Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
Schooling is nothing new here. We went to school in the preexistence. There were occasions when Adam taught the classes, and when Abraham taught the classes, and when Joseph Smith did. And the classes were so numerous and so extensive that the whole house of Israel-that group of spirits who were foreordained to become Israelites-were teachers; and they taught classes. And the witness of truth was borne and we were given the opportunity to advance and progress. When the time came for us to come down to mortality, we ended a course of instruction that had been going on for an infinitely long period of time and commenced a new course of instruction-a mortal course. In effect, this mortal course is the final examination for all of the life that we lived through in this infinite premortal world. Thus, after having learned gospel truths in the preexistence, gospel instruction in mortality is but a remembering of that which we knew prior to birth-we brought with us an appetite for gospel truths from the premortal sphere. 1
The Divine Council: Many Meetings
Some suppose that the council prior to the organization and peopling of earth was a one time event. This is not the case. There are many scriptures which hint or directly teach of a divine council. As taught by Elder McConkie, the council that was had in the presence of God consisted of many meetings:
There were many meetings, conferences, councils and schooling sessions held among the Gods and their spirit offspring in the pre-existence. Among other things, at these various assemblages, plans were made for the creation and peopling of this earth and for the redemption and salvation of the offspring of Deity. 2
Scriptures on The Divine Council
Revelation 4 and 5 contains interesting passages that hint of the divine council: we read of 24 elders that wear crowns and sit on thrones, “round about the throne (of God) were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (Revelation 4:4). In the next chapter these 24 elders state that the Lord has made them kings and priests unto God, and that they will reign on earth, apparently under the direction of the Lord (Revelation 5:8-14).
In the Psalms (Psalms 82:1), we read that “God (אֱלֹהִ֔ים Elohim) standeth in the divine assembly, or congregation (בַּעֲדַת-אֵל aydaw); He judges among the gods (אֱלֹהִ֔ים elohim)”. After a few verses we read, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6). It is noteworthy that Jesus himself quoted this verse in John 10:34.
In Genesis 6:2, 4, and Job 1:6; 2:1, the members of the divine council are designated as bənê hā-ʾĕlōhîm (“the sons of God”). Psalm 97:7 addresses kōl-ʾĕlōhîm (“all [ye] gods”).
Today, many scholars of the Bible agree that the authors of the Hebrew text understood and believed in the Divine Council. 3 Israel’s neighbors also believed in this, though with a different view- their cosmos was ruled by specifically identified gods that acted together to create and manage the universe. Patrick D. Miller stated:
In the religious world of the ancient Near East, the cosmos was understood to be ruled by the gods who not only existed in great numbers and should be conceived as a pantheon but frequently acted as an assembly or council to deliberate and make decisions about the world and its inhabitants. 4
When compared to their neighbors, Israel had some unique characteristics associated with their Divine Council or Divine Assembly. Indeed, Katherine Sakenfeld stated:
The Old Testament description of the ‘divine assembly’ all suggest that this metaphor for the organization of the divine world was consistent with that of Mesopotamia and Canaan. One difference, however, should be noted. In the Old Testament, the identities of the members of the assembly are far more obscure than those found in other descriptions of these groups, as in their polytheistic environment. Israelite writers sought to express both the uniqueness and the superiority of their God Yahweh. 5
The revelations of the Restoration are much clearer when teaching about the Divine Council. In Doctrine and Covenants 138 we read, “I observed that they (those reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in the laying the foundations of the great latter-day work) were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:55-56).
Abraham 4:26 reads, “And the Gods took counsel among themselves…”
Doctrine and Covenants 121:32 mentions that the there were things or times “ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was…”
Moses 4:1-4 give us an indication of the action taken in the Council as the Savior’s first words were, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). We read in this account of the desire of Satan to rebel against the Father and try to blind men and lead them into captivity.
With respect to Satan’s plan, I must say that I do not believe that it ever would have worked. I believe that Satan was lying, and he knew that he was lying when he said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). I believe that Satan was offering something that could not be: to have a salvation whereby none of us would have agency or responsibility, and yet be saved. This is impossible! I suppose that he offered us something which must have sounded good to some, but was impossible for him to deliver. We see a similar battle taking place today in mortality whereby mankind is asked to choose between the opportunity to exercise agency while being free, versus the security of “free” salvation or “free” security, while slowly losing their agency and the power to act for themselves.
I believe the following thought shared by Elder Neal A. Maxwell works to prove that “forced salvation” would never work:
If the Lord were to show His power as some expect power to be used—which is virtually unthinkable—mortals would experience, among other things, prompt punishment rather than divine long-suffering. God would then stop all human suffering and silence all opposition to His work. In countless ways He would control the adverse effects of agency merely to prove that He was all-powerful. But He would not be all-loving for in effect He would have derailed His plan of happiness! The enforced cooperation would not produce illuminated individuality but an indistinguishable “compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11). We would then be back to that proposal of enforced “salvation” rejected so long ago (Moses 4:1). 6
Prophetic Statements on the Divine Council
Joseph Smith said, “The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at the time.” 7
“Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.” 8
Our past influences the present
Joseph Fielding Smith said:
Notwithstanding this fact that our recollection of former things was taken away, the character of our lives in the spirit world has much to do with our disposition, desires and mentality here in mortal life. The spirit influences the body to a great extent, just as the body in its desires and cravings has an influence on the spirit. The Lord has caused it to be so. Therefore, those who were the noble and great ones in that former world, the Lord foreordained to be his prophets and rulers here, for he knew them before they were born, and through the action of the spirit on the body, he knows they will be likely to serve him here. Environment and many other causes, however, have great influence on the progress and destiny of man, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the characteristics of the spirit, which were developed through many ages of a former existence, play a very important part in our progression through mortal life. 9
1. Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, Edited by Mark L. McConkie, Bookcraft, 1989, p. 340-341.
2. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, second edition, Bookcraft, 1966, p. 163-164.
3. Michael Heiser has written: Biblical scholarship has reached a consensus with respect to the presence of a divine assembly of gods in Israel’s faith. Prior to the sixth century B.C.E., Israelite religion underwent an evolution from an initial polytheism to a firm monolatry, where the other gods of the divine council were tolerated but not worshipped. The religious crises of Israel’s early sixth century B.C.E. exile prompted the scribes to obscure the council in the canonical texts and compose new material declaring that Yahweh had punished Israel for her sins, brought her out of bondage, and put the other gods to death. The historical turnabout and its literary response marked the birth of true monotheism in Israel, where no other gods existed except Yahweh. Michael Heiser, The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, from the Abstract of his 2004 thesis. See also: Daniel C. Peterson, Ye Are Gods: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind, Maxwell Institute. Mullen, Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, 44–45; compare 109–10, 146. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 40–41; and L’Heureux, Rank among the Canaanite Gods, p. 69. Paul Sumner, Visions of the Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible, 1991, 2013.
4. Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000): 423. A few of the primary Hebrew words associated with the heavenly council in the Old Testament include sôd “council” (Jeremiah 18: 22; 23:18; Job 15:8; Psalms 25:14), mô‘ēd “meeting, assembly” (Isaiah 14:13), ‘ēdâ “congregation” (Psalms 82:1), qedoshim “the Holy Ones” (Psalms 89:5; Zechariah 14:5; Job 5), saba’ “host” (Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19; 1 Kings 22:19; Psalms 103:21; 148:2), beney elim/ beney (ha)elohim “sons of God” (Psalms 29:1; 89:6/ Genesis 6:1-2; Job 1:6), elohim “gods” (Psalms 82:1; 86:8; 95:3,4; 97:7,9; 135:5; 136:2; 138:1), and elim “gods” (Exodus 15:11; Psalms 58:1).
5. Sakenfeld, Katharine ed., The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 2, Abingdon Press, Nashville, pg 145, emphasis added.
6. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, Deseret Book, 1988, p. 91.
7. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348. See also The King Follett Sermon, Ensign, April 1971.
8. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365.
9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1: 60.