Samuel the Lamanite preached to the Nephites in Zarahemla during the eighty-sixth year of the reign of the judges (Helaman 13:1-2, 16:1-9). During that sermon, he said, “Five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name” (Helaman 14:2). He provided an unmistakeable sign by which they would know that the Savior had been born—a day, a night, and a day with no darkness, even thought they would see the sun set (Helaman 14:3-4).
Mormon doesn’t tell us if Samuel’s sermon was early or late in the year. But regardless of the timing, those who were aware of the prophecy would have expected the sign to occur sometime during the ninety-first year, five years later. So it must have been discouraging to believers when that year came and went with no sign. The book of 3 Nephi opens with these troubling words: “Now it came to pass that the ninety and first year had passed away and it was six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem” (3 Nephi 1:1).
Two time-bound prophecies apparently unfulfilled. Lehi and Nephi had prophesied that the Messiah would be born six hundred years from the time they left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 10:4, 1 Nephi 19:8, 2 Nephi 25:19). And Samuel had prophesied that the Savior’s birth would occur five years after his sermon. The time had apparently passed, with no sign.
No wonder the critics of the believers began to say “The time is past” (3 Nephi 1:6). And no wonder the believers themselves “began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass” (3 Nephi 1:7).
But they didn’t give up. Mormon tells us that “they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain” (3 Nephi 1:8).
Clearly, Samuel the Lamanite had not meant that the Savior would be born exactly five years from the day of his sermon. “Five years more cometh, and then cometh the Son of God.” How soon after? No one knew. The Savior was apparently born five years and several months after the sermon. Why the delay? Perhaps it was to create this window of faith for the believers. Perhaps this was their chance to demonstrate and to strengthen their faith.
How appropriate that, when the Savior announced His birth to Nephi, He highlighted the fulfillment of prophecy: “On the morrow come I into the world,” He said, “to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets” (3 Nephi 1:13). The faith of the believers was vindicated, just a little later than they had hoped.
Today, I will continue to believe in the words of God’s prophets. I will remember that those words will all be fulfilled, but not necessarily on my timeline. I will continue to watch for the unfolding of God’s plan in His own time.