Elder Spencer J. Condie: How many times does it take to embrace change? ‘The third time they did understand’

In the Book of Mormon we read of “a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful.” And “while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard.” 

“And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they understood it not.

“And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it …

“And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them;

“Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my  name — hear ye him” (3 Nephi 11:1-7; italics added).

Elder Spencer J. Condie
Elder Spencer J. Condie

There are several other instances recorded in the scriptures which confirm that new information is not always readily understood and may sometimes require at least three times before some messages are fully understood.

You will recall when young Samuel and Eli had retired for the night in separate rooms in the temple. Samuel heard the Lord’s voice, and thinking it was Eli who had beckoned him, “he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I.”  And Eli told him to return to his bed.

“And the Lord called yet again, Samuel.” And he went to Eli who said, “I called not, my son: lie down again.”

“And the Lord called Samuel again the third time,” this time Eli told Samuel that “if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord: for thy servant heareth.”

“And the Lord … called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel.  Then Samuel answered, “Speak: for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:3-10; italics added).

In Acts 10 we read of Peter’s encounter with what for him was a new doctrine when Cornelius, a devout Italian centurion in Caesarea, beheld a vision in which he was instructed to “send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter” (Acts 10: 1-5).

As these men were underway to find Peter, “Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour” and “he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened” and a great sheet … “Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

“And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

“But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or clean.

“And the voice spake unto him again the second time. What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

This was done thrice; and the vessel was received up again into heaven (Acts 10:9-16; italics added).

The Savior had previously instructed His disciples to “Go not into the way of the Gentiles … But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). When Peter eventually met Cornelius and learned of his sincere desire to be taught the gospel, he understood the lesson he had been taught three times: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). He then realized that the gospel was not only for the Jews but also for the gentiles and all of our Heavenly Father’s children.

Actors portray Nephi, Sam, Laman and Lemuel in this scene from The Book of Mormon Videos series. Sam Petersen as Lemuel, Jackson VanDerwerken as Nephi, Mace Sorensen as Laman, and Cooper Sutton as Sam, act in the Book of Mormon Visual Library at LDS Motion Picture Studios South Campus near Goshen on Friday, July 7, 2017.
Actors portray Nephi, Sam, Laman and Lemuel in this scene from The Book of Mormon Videos series. Sam Petersen as Lemuel, Jackson VanDerwerken as Nephi, Mace Sorensen as Laman, and Cooper Sutton as Sam, act in the Book of Mormon Visual Library at LDS Motion Picture Studios South Campus near Goshen on Friday, July 7, 2017. Credit: David Guerrero

Early in the Book of Mormon we read the account of Nephi and his brothers’ attempts to retrieve the plates of brass from Laban. Nephi said, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). Then, surprisingly he said, “I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban. … And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him” (1 Nephi 4:10).

A second time “the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord had delivered him into thy hands” (1 Nephi 4:11). A third time “the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; … It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:12-13).

“Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword” (1 Nephi 4:18). The third time he understood fully what was expected of him.

Portrait of Joseph Smith, September 1842.
Portrait of Joseph Smith, September 1842. Credit: Courtesy Community of Christ Library-Archives, Licensed to Joseph Smith Papers Project

Early in this dispensation the Prophet Joseph learned the pattern of repetition to assure complete understanding of true principles. After retiring to his bed on the evening of Sept. 21, 1823, young Joseph had a visitation from the Angel Moroni who informed him of “a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent” which also contained “the fulness of the everlasting Gospel.”  Moroni also cited Malachi chapter three, “the eleventh chapter of Isaiah,” “the third chapter of Acts, and the second chapter of Joel” (Joseph Smith—History 1:29-30, 34).

Moroni then departed but soon returned, and Joseph said, “He commenced, and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit, without the least variation” (JSH 1:45; italics added).  After Moroni left the second time, Joseph exclaimed: “But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before” (JSH 1:46; italics added).

The next day, somewhat exhausted from lack of sleep Joseph went to work in his father’s field when he “beheld the same messenger standing over my head, surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night” (JSH 1:49; italics added).  

As Saints of the latter days may we rejoice in hearing or reading General Conference addresses regarding ministering, staying on the covenant path, giving generously of our means in assisting the hungry and the homeless, visiting those in prison, and participating with whole heart and soul in the home-centered “Come, Follow Me” program. 

As the format and length of meetings may change, as modifications in temple ordinances occur, and methods of sharing the gospel expand, may each of us humbly accept and follow the counsel of our beloved President Russell M. Nelson: “I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you — even miracles — will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018).

— Elder Spencer J. Condie, an emeritus General Authority Seventy, is a former professor at Brigham Young University