I’ve been studying the Book of Ether recently, and I came across a verse again that has always bothered me:
“I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.” (Ether 3:8)
This verse bothered me because I couldn’t figure out why it was in the third person. The Brother of Jared is having this theophany, so why doesn’t he use “you” or “thou”? Why is it “he”? As I studied these verses more, I found the answer, and it is very subtle and faith-affirming.
Let’s consider this experience from the point of view of the Brother of Jared.
In the first verse, he hikes up the mountain carrying his sixteen small stones. He is alone. When he gets to the appointed place, he begins to pray, calling upon the Lord to favor his petition. He is still alone, and he prays until the end of verse five.
In verse six, the Brother of Jared finishes his prayer, and he is still alone. This is when he starts to feel something pressing on the stones he holds, and by the sixteenth stone, he sees a finger.
When he sees the finger, he falls down in shock, afraid that he has seen something he shouldn’t have seen, and perhaps wondering how he could stand to see a finger so glorious and not be consumed by fire. The finger, presumably, has disappeared.
In the midst of this confusion and shock, the Brother of Jared (who is still alone) hears a voice: “Arise! Why hast thou fallen?”
The Brother of Jared has no idea who is talking. From his point of view, he saw a finger and is now hearing a voice. He assumes the finger belongs to the Lord, because that’s the person to whom he’s been praying. But the voice? He has no context for knowing the owner of the voice, and responds ambiguously, using the third person:
I saw the finger of the Lord…
After this, the voice identifies itself:
I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger.
The voice identifies itself as belonging to the same person who owns the finger, namely the Lord. At this point, with proof as to the identify of the person with whom he has been speaking, the Brother of Jared can appropriately switch to the second person:
Lord, show thyself unto me.
To me, this subtlety is exquisite. We as readers of course know the identity of the voice; Moroni is very explicit throughout the whole sequence that the owner of the finger is the same person who owns the voice. That extra detail he includes is actually the source of the confusion; had he left it out, this question would never have arisen.
I read this, and I think: could an uneducated farm boy have caught that detail, if he were making this up?