What was going on with the soldiers in the sky the night the golden plates were delivered to Joseph Smith?
Great question. You nearly had me stumped on this one. It’s a story I had not heard before, so I’m glad you brought it to my attention. We should not be surprised by this, really, it’s not the first time the Lord has used the night sky to testify of His work. Remember that the shepherds and wise men saw a star when Christ was born. In the Americas they had three days with no light at all. John Pratt, a modern scientist, believes that the constellations themselves testify of Christ. You can read an article about this here.
I admit though, the story you mention did take me by surprise. It turns out that this was a vision of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. Neither of them knew one another at that time and they lived miles apart. Later they would be come best friends and neighbors. Heber related it this way:
It began . . . in the eastern horizon—a white smoke rising toward the heavens with the sound of a mighty wind. The smoke moved across the sky, in the shape of a rainbow toward the western horizon. It grew wide, then bluish in color, and became completely transparent. As Heber watched with his family and several neighbors, a large, commanding army appeared, marching in platoons across the sky from east to west. “We could distinctly see the muskets, bayonets and knapsacks of the men,” Heber recorded, “and also saw their officers with their swords and equipage, and [heard] the clashing and jingling of their implements of war, and could discover the forms and features of the men. The most profound order existed throughout the entire army; when the foremost man stepped, every man stepped at the same time; I could hear the steps. When the front rank reached the western horizon a battle ensued, as we could distinctly hear the report of arms and the rush.
“No man could judge of my feelings when I beheld that army of men, as plainly as ever I saw armies of men in the flesh; it seemed as though every hair of my head was alive. This scenery we gazed upon for hours, until it began to disappear.”
Heber felt that it was a “foreshadowing … of the warfare to be waged between the powers of good and evil, from the time Truth sprang from earth and Righteousness looked down from heaven upon the boy Joseph, predestined to bring to light the buried records of the past.”
You can read Bro. Brigham’s version, and much more information here,
There is another article on this occurrence here.
You might also be interested in this story from Parley P. Pratt:
I had been on a visit to a singular people called Shakers, at New Lebanon, about seven miles from my aunt Van Cotts, and was returning that distance, on foot, on a beautiful evening of September. The sky was without a cloud; the stars shone out beautifully, and all nature seemed reposing in quiet, as I pursued my solitary way, wrapt in deep meditations on the predictions of the holy prophets; the signs of the times; the approaching advent of the Messiah, to reign on the earth, and the important revelations of the Book of Mormon; my heart filled with gratitude to God that He had opened the eyes of my understanding to receive the truth, and with sorrow for the blindness of those who lightly rejected the same, when my attention was aroused by a sudden appearance of a brilliant light which shone around me, above the brightness of the sun. I cast my eyes upward to inquire from whence the light came, when I perceived a long chain of light extended in the heavens, very bright, and of a deep fiery red. It at first stood stationary in a horizontal position; at length bending in the centre, the two ends approached each other with a rapid movement, so as to form an exact square. In this position it again remained stationary for some time, perhaps a minute, and then again the ends approached each other with the same rapidity, and again ceased to move, remaining stationary, for perhaps a minute, in the form of a compass; it then commenced a third movement in the same manner, and closed like the closing of a compass, the whole forming a straight line like a chain doubled. It again remained stationary for a minute, and then faded away.
I fell upon my knees in the street, and thanked the Lord for so marvelous a sign of the coming of the Son of Man.
Some persons may smile at this, and say that all these exact movements were by chance; but, for my part, I could as soon believe that the letters of the alphabet would be formed by chance, and be placed so as to spell my name, as to believe that these signs (known only to the wise) could be formed and shown forth by chance. The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pg 42 (this took place in 1830)