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Commentary on Moses 1
TitleCommentary on Moses 1
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsSmoot, Stephen O.
Book TitleThe Pearl of Great Price: A Study Edition for Latter-day Saints
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT

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1 The opening chapter of the book of Moses narrates a dramatic experience of the eponymous prophet on an unnamed mountain (1:42) sometime after his encounter with God in the burning bush (1:17) but before the exodus of Israel out of Egypt (1:26). The first line of OT1 identifies this text simply as “A Revelation given to Joseph the Revelator June 1830.” Scholars continue to wonder if Moses 1 is a standalone revelation or if it acts as a sort of preface to the rest of the Prophet’s inspired revision of the book of Genesis. Moses 1:40 appears to indicate that the account preserved in this chapter is a sort of framing device for the subsequent narrative. Although 1:40–41 indicates that Moses recorded his experience, without recourse to any ancient manuscripts it is unknown how much of this chapter is a restoration of lost text as opposed to Joseph Smith’s expansive revelation about an important (but otherwise unknown) incident in Moses’s life.

1:1–2 Moses being “caught up” into a high mountain and beholding the glory of God face-to-face evokes a temple setting and context comparable to imagery attested throughout the Hebrew Bible and other ancient sources. Latter-day Saint commentators have written extensively on this chapter, noting its similarity to other ascension texts wherein a prophet ascends into the presence of God and receives a divine commission. The striking parallels between Moses 1 and this body of ancient literature are undeniable. (Consult the bibliography for representative samples of this scholarship.) Saw God face to face. Compare Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10. Other prophets so privileged to have beheld the Lord “face to face” include, but are not limited to, Enoch (Moses 7:4), Abraham (Abraham 3:11), Jacob (Genesis 32:30), and Moroni (Ether 12:39).

1:3 Endless. Compare Moses 7:35. (See additional clarification on this name for God provided in Doctrine and Covenants 19:4–12.)

1:4 This is the first of several instances in this chapter where Moses is for the first time declared to be a son of God (compare Moses 1:6–7, 13, 40). The status of Moses as a son of God will feature prominently later in the narrative when Lucifer attempts to deceive Moses into worshipping him (1:12–13). The Hebrew phrase “son of God” (ben ʾelohim) denotes a divine or supernatural being. As a son of heavenly parents along with the rest of humanity, Moses was indeed a son of God. But in this context, the phrase likely implies more than mere divine parentage, signaling Moses’s status as a participant in God’s heavenly divine council.

1:5 The phrase “on the earth” is absent from OT1 and was inserted interlineally in OT2. The implication seems to be that anybody who experiences the full scope and extent of God’s eternal glory throughout Creation cannot be withheld from a greater or more permanent level of deification, and therefore Moses was shown only a portion thereof.

1:6 Here the title of “Only Begotten” is invoked for the first time. This epithet will feature prominently throughout the rest of the book (see Moses 2:1, 24–27; 3:18; 4:1, 3, 28; 5:7–9, 57; 6:52, 57, 59, 62; 7:50, 59, 62). As used in the New Testament, the term derives from the Greek monogenēs (with equivalents in Hebrew and Aramaic: yĕḥîd) and is featured in other scripture as a title for Jesus (see John 3:16; Alma 5:48; Doctrine and Covenants 76:23). It carries a sense of possessing a unique or special relationship to somebody else and otherwise of being “one of a kind.” (Isaac is afforded this attribute at Genesis 22:2 and Hebrews 11:17 even though Ishmael was his older half-brother.) No God beside me. See also Isaiah 45:5, 21–22; Hosea 13:4–5; Doctrine and Covenants 76:1. This declaration is an affirmation of God’s incomparable status as the Father of humanity and Lord of Creation, not necessarily a declaration of His sole existence. Indeed, as depicted unmistakably throughout the text, besides God stands His Only Begotten Son.

1:8 Children of men. The Hebrew meaning of this term (bĕnêy ʾadam) is simply “mortals, humans” (compare Abraham 3:27)

1:10 Compare Joseph Smith—History 1:20, where the Prophet Joseph Smith reports being similarly exhausted after his visionary experience. See also 1 Nephi 1:6–7; Alma 19:6.

1:11 In the ancient mindset, encountering God or other divine beings was considered extraordinarily dangerous and potentially fatal (see Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:22–23; 13:21–23), for precisely the same reason given here.

1:12 Satan appears in the narrative here for the first time and will be a prominent antagonist throughout the rest of the account, scheming to influence the lives of the children of Adam and Eve in deleterious ways. Son of man. Satan demotes Moses’s status to that of a mere mortal in an attempt to command his allegiance, seemingly unaware of God’s declaration at Moses 1:4. Moses counters in the next verse and at 1:16 by affirming his ennobling status as a son of God in the “similitude” (that is, likeness or resemblance) of God’s Only Begotten.

1:15 Darkness unto me. Both OT1 and OT2 use the word “blackness” instead of “darkness.” This earlier reading may evoke a more visceral visual experience on Moses’s part (that is, Satan’s imitative glory is as the pitch blackness of night compared to the splendor and glory of God) and might relate to the “blackness” that characterizes the people of Canaan at 7:8 and the descendants of Cain in 7:22. (See also the commentary on these verses.)

1:17 This verse preserves one of God’s instructions to Moses otherwise unattested in the Hebrew Bible (see Exodus 3).

1:18 OT1 and OT2 add “and it is glory unto me” after “his glory has been upon me.”

1:19 Satan ranted upon the earth. OT1 and OT2 both read that Satan “wrent” upon the earth. This is most likely a variant of “rent” (the past tense of “rend”), meaning that Satan broke up the earth around Moses in a terrible display of fury. The change to “ranted” occurred in the 1981 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. With either verb the imagery is basically the same: Satan, out of desperation and anger that Moses refused to worship him, lashed out in some type of terrifying display (see also 1:21). I am the Only Begotten. With this declaration, Satan desperately attempts to reassert his status as a once-ranking member of the divine council. He is, in effect, attempting still to subvert the Father’s plan even after his disastrous attempt to claim glory for himself in the premortal council (compare 4:1–4; Abraham 3:24–28).

1:20 Compare the description given by Joseph Smith of his encounter with Satan in the Sacred Grove in Joseph Smith—History 1:15–16.

1:21 In OT1 and OT2 Moses explicitly calls upon the name of Jesus Christ to rebuke Satan. Two subsequent scribal edits changed this to “his Son” and then finally “the Only Begotten,” the latter of which was used by Orson Pratt in the 1878 edition and subsequent editions of the Pearl of Great Price. Moses’s invoking the name of the Only Begotten as opposed to the name Jesus Christ is more in harmony with the repeated mention of this title throughout the previous verses, which perhaps accounts for the change.

1:22 Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth is characteristic of Satan and those who share his eternal fate (see Mosiah 16:2; Alma 40:13; Doctrine and Covenants 19:5; 101:91; 133:73).

1:24 The imagery of Moses lifting up his eyes to behold another heavenly vision reflects a common biblical idiom sometimes used in visionary or quasi-visionary contexts (see Genesis 13:10, 14; 18:2; 22:4, 13; 24:63; 31:10, 12; 33:1; Exodus 14:10; Numbers 24:2; Deuteronomy 4:19; Psalm 121:1; 123:1; Isaiah 40:26; see also the commentary at Abraham 3:11–12).

1:25 Compare Exodus 7:1, where the Lord declares that Moses is “a god to Pharaoh.” The promise that Moses will have power over the waters is an obvious allusion to the parting of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:21–31).

1:29 Moses beholds in vision many lands called “earth.” The immediate context and Moses 1:40 suggest that Moses is beholding many lands and their inhabitants on this planet, with each land called “earth” (Hebrew: ʾereṣ, “land, country, earth”). However, a grander cosmic scale involving multiple worlds cannot be fully ruled out in light of 1:37–38.

1:30–31 OT2 replaces “tell me” with “shew me,” suggesting anticipation for another visionary experience. Face to face. For a second time Moses beholds the Lord face-to-face. As with Abraham (in Abraham 3:11) the context is a visionary glimpse of Creation.

1:32 The Only Begotten is identified as the Word of God’s power, anticipating the profound Logos hymn of John 1:1–18.

1:33 Compare Doctrine and Covenants 76:23–24.

1:34 The gloss provided in this verse identifies Adam as “many” (although the antecedent to “many” could also be “man” or “men,” a reading that is reinforced by Moses 4:26). Coupled with 1:29, this may suggest a plurality of “Adams” who inhabit many lands called “earth” throughout God’s Creation.

1:35–36 The Creation that God reveals to Moses pertains only to this world (compare 1:40; 2:1), leaving open for speculation the nature of the rest of God’s innumerable Creations. The infinite and grand scope of God’s creative power throughout the cosmos as described in this text leaves the reader overwhelmed with a simultaneous sense of both astonishment and nothingness (compare Moses’s reaction at 1:10).

1:37 OT1 begins this verse with “And the Lord God spake unto Moses saying The Heavens there are many.” This was revised in OT2 to read: “And the Lord God spake unto Moses of the Heavens saying these are many.”

1:39 This verse—cherished and cited by Latter-day Saints as a short encapsulation of the purpose and intention behind God’s plan of salvation—is explicitly couched in the context of the purpose behind Creation and humanity’s existence. OT1 renders it “this is my work to my glory to the immortality & the eternal life of man.” The rendering of this verse so well known to Latter-day Saints today was made in OT2 and has been used by each edition of the Pearl of Great Price since 1878. In the OT1 rendering, the work of the Father in bringing about the immortality and eternal life of humankind is depicted more forcefully as being commensurate or proportional with the increase of His glory. In other words, as more of His children attain immortality and eternal life, the glory of the Father increases. This subtly anticipates teachings made by the Prophet Joseph Smith toward the end of his life that the eternal life and exaltation of God and His children compound as they continue to progress through the eternities.

1:42 This injunction to secrecy is especially appropriate when the account is viewed as a temple text and an apocalypse—that is, a revelation that unveils mysteries or secrets about the world, its destiny, and God’s plans for humanity (see the commentary for 7:65–67). A common feature in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature is the urge to keep the contents of revelations secret or otherwise shielded from profane or unworthy readers (compare Daniel 8:26 and also Matthew 17:9; Mark 9:9, where Jesus swears the disciples to secrecy after His own transfiguration on a high mount).

Scripture Reference

Moses 1:1