Helaman 13:9-10 — LeGrand Baker — Prophecy as testimony
9 And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.
10 Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction.
The timing of this prophecy was given asks interesting questions: It seems to say that if the people who are hearing Samuel do not repent then their great-great-great grandchildren will be destroyed. That really doesn’t seem to be very pressing or even all that relevant to the people he is talking to. Besides that, the modern reader who is reading the Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time knows that these people who refuse to repent will meet their own end when the earth expresses its anger just before the coming of the Savior and that there will be a millennial-like peace after that. Thus one has to ask, why is this prophecy relevant to the people who are hearing it? The answer is: so the righteous among the hearers will be able to warn those great-great-great grandchildren that the turmoil they are encountering in their lives was known by the Lord— and by his prophets— well before they had to face its dangers. That knowledge, that God is fully aware of their problems, encouraged and gave strength to the faithful of Mormon’s generation.
While Mormon did not mention the prophecy as a source of encouragement, he did call attention to its fulfillment in his own lifetime, perhaps suggesting that the faithful need not be surprised at the depravity that reigned free in the land (Mormon 1:19).
It appears that the Lord uses prophecies about the future for three separate purposes. One is to help prepare the faithful Saints so they will not be thrown off balance by events that are soon to come. An example is Samuel’s prophecy of the birth of the Savior which emboldened the faithful to stay true to their beliefs.
Another example of a distant, but very explicit prophecy is in Revelation 11:2-13. There, two prophets will be killed in Jerusalem before the Savior comes to protect the Jews. The prophecy partly answers our curiosity about what will happen in the future, but will, no doubt, be a great comfort to those who have to live through the war and turmoil that is described there.
A second reason is to give the Saints a sense of the ultimate triumph of the forces of righteousness over the forces of evil. By giving the faithful a glimpse of the chronology of future events, they can understand that whatever happens in their own times or even in their own lives, neither the difficulty nor the tragedy will have a permanent, eternal effect on their security and happiness.
The third reason is the most important of all. As the angel explained to John the Beloved, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10.).” Mormon said it even more clearly:
8 And Alma went and began to declare the word of God unto the church … according to the spirit of prophecy which was in him, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who should come to redeem his people from their sins, and the holy order by which he was called. And thus it is written. Amen (Alma 6:8).
As we see the prophecies fulfilled, or as the Spirit testifies to us that they have been or will yet be fulfilled, the Spirit also assures us that God is very much in charge, and however impossible it may seem to us just now, God will do everything to his ultimate glory and to our ultimate salvation.