About 20 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a prophet on the American continent had a remarkable experience. His name was Nephi, and he had previously served as the chief judge—the highest political office in his nation. But he had resigned from this position to serve as a missionary with his brother Lehi (Helaman 5:1, 4).
Seven years later, he returned to his home and was horrified at the corruption he saw in the government which he had once led (Helaman 7:1-6). He spoke out boldly, and was miraculously delivered from his antagonists. But he was unsuccessful in convincing the people to change their behavior (Helaman 9:37-41, Helaman 10:1).
As he walked back to his home, pondering and mourning the wickedness of his people, God made an extraordinary promise to him:
I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will….
Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people (Helaman 10:5, 7).
The Lord gave several examples of how this power could be used:
- He could initiate a famine.
- He could destroy a temple.
- He could bring down a mountain and make the ground smooth (Helaman 10:6, 8-10).
The key to the whole thing is that he had earned God’s trust. God was willing to honor his desires because his desires had become aligned with the will of God.
After receiving this promise, Nephi went back to work. When he saw that they were unwilling to repent, he decided to make use of the authority he had been given. Seeing increased violence among his people and fearing that they would destroy one another, he prayed for a famine “to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God (Helaman 11:4).
God honored Nephi’s request. The heavens were sealed. There was no rain for more than two years. Eventually, the people repented and pleaded with Nephi to open the heavens again. At his request, God sent rain again (Helaman 11:17).
Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Elijah had demonstrated similar power. During the reign of King Ahab, who “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33), Elijah suddenly arrived. Unlike Nephi, we have no account of Elijah’s prior service nor of how he received authority from God, but we do see him exercising that authority with confidence as he speaks with the king:
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word (1 Kings 17:1).
As Elder Boyd K. Packer pointed out, Elijah didn’t say, “It won’t rain until you repent.” He said, “It’s not going to rain until I say so” (“Ordinances,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 3 February 1980). Like Nephi, he had the assurance that his words would be honored by God, that what he spoke on earth would be honored in heaven.
Elijah wasn’t the only person to hold this power in ancient times, but he fulfilled a specific function in relation to this power:
- Malachi identified Elijah as the person who would return to earth in a future time to strengthen and unite families (Malachi 4:5-6).
- Elijah appeared on a high mountain to Jesus and to three of His apostles, shortly after Jesus had promised one of those apostles: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 17:1-3).
- On April 3, 1836, he appeared to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in the temple in Kirtland, Ohio, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (Doctrine and Covenants 110:13-16).
We generally associate the sealing power with marriage and family. We take comfort in knowing that relationships which are bound together on earth can persist after death. But it is important to remember how Nephi received this power. God will honor the words of those who earn His trust by aligning their will with His.
Today, I will remember the example of Nephi. I will be grateful that God is willing to trust some of His children and to honor their declarations and promises, both on earth and in heaven.