The first “seer” we meet in the scriptures, called by that name, is the prophet Samuel, when Saul seeks him out to find his lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:18–20). A comment is there made that “beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer” (1 Samuel 9:9). The word “prophet” seems to have become more popular because “all that he [the seer] saith cometh surely to pass” (1 Samuel 9:6). Later scriptural definitions distinguish between prophets and seers.
Others known as seers in the Old Testament include Abiathar and Zadok, the priests, Gad, who was King David’s seer, Heman, Iddo, Hanani, Asaph, Juduthun, and the prophet Amos (1 Samuel 30:7; 2 Samuel 15:27; 24:11; 1 Chronicles 25:5; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 16:7, 10; 29:30; 35:15; Amos 7:12). David often inquired of the Lord through a seer whether and where to go to battle against the Philistines and Amalekites (1 Samuel 23:6–12; 30:7–8; 2 Samuel 5:19, 23–25). Doing so, gave him much the advantage against Israel’s enemies.
Earlier seers, chronologically, include Enoch, who saw “the spirits God had created” and “things which were not visible to the natural eye” (Moses 6:36); the Brother of Jared, who saw “all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be” (Ether 3:23–25); Ether, who saw the destructions that would come upon the Jaredites, and also far into the future to the new Jerusalem (Ether 13:2–14); Abraham, who saw the order of the stars and God’s creations (Abraham 3:1–28); and Moses, who saw every particle of the earth and all its inhabitants (Moses 1:8, 27–29). In our day, the Prophet Joseph Smith exemplifies the role of seer, just as his ancestor, Joseph in Egypt, had predicted (2 Nephi 3:6–16).
As with the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Aaron, Abiathar, and others, a seer was usually one who had a seer stone or stones, also called the Urim and Thummim, which were kept in an “ephod” or linen pouch (Exodus 28; 35;1 Samuel 2:18, 28; 30:7; Ether 3:23; Abraham 3:1). These quartzite-type stones functioned much like terrestrial computer chips through which one could access the knowledge of the universe.
From Old Testament descriptions of what seers did in the days of King David, we can conclude that Alma the Younger was a seer. When he informed Captain Moroni’s men of the direction the Lamanites were taking to attack the Nephites, he fulfilled the classic function of a seer (Alma 43:23–24). In that respect, Alma, like the Old Testament seers, became a “great benefit to his fellow beings,” as many lives were spared as a result (Mosiah 8:18). Earlier, King Mosiah had conferred upon Alma the Urim and Thummim together with the Nephite and Jaredite records (Mosiah 28:10–20).
Ammon gives the best scriptural definition of a seer when he says, “A seer can know of things which are past, and also things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known” (Mosiah 8:17). As a case in point, the Urim and Thummim are able to “discover to every creature” in the land “the iniquities and abominations of the people” (Mosiah 28:15).
A specific function of a seer, or of one who uses the Urim and Thummim, is translating scriptures. Through their means, a seer “has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date . . . and the things are called interpreters” (Mosiah 8:13). With their help, King Mosiah could translate the plates of Ether, as these interpreters were “prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men” (Mosiah 8:19). Moreover, the gift of seership is God’s greatest gift to mortal man: “A gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God” (Mosiah 8:16).
Because of the sacred nature of divine seership and the power of God that is manifested, great restrictions are placed on the Urim and Thummim or seer stones. By definition, a seer is one who is “commanded” by God to use this seeing device (Mosiah 8:13). Alternatively, people who have experimented with seer stones, who have looked into them when not commanded, have “perished,” mentally, physically, and spiritually, precisely as Ammon warned (ibid.).
Nevertheless, God promises each of us our personal Urim and Thummim when we have progressed to that point: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17). The new name compares to an access code that enables the recipient to look into the stone or stones and inquire of God.
The Prophet Joseph Smith commented that the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17 “will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made manifest” (D& C 130:10). Those who receive these stones are celestial beings (D&C 130:11), in other words, persons who make sure their calling and election. Temple ordinances and covenants teach us the requirements for obtaining the Urim and Thummim and the manner in which we receive them.
Patriarch Charles D. Evans of the Utah Stake saw in a vision published in Volume 15 of the 1893 edition of the Contributor how, during the Millennium, people would not learn from books or teachers as we do today, but rather by looking into Urims. They would see the past and the future, the makeup of all things, and how lower elements are assumed upward into living life forms.
Indeed, the Lord invites us today to see the things the Brother of Jared saw. To that end, we must “repent of [our] iniquity, and become clean before the Lord.” We must “exercise faith in [him] even as the brother of Jared did, that [we] may become sanctified in [him].” When we do this, the Lord will “manifest unto [us] the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto [us] all [his] revelations” (Ether 4:6–7).