Section 105: Zion’s Camp Disbanded
Let us now return to Zion’s Camp and the discouraging circumstances in which they found themselves when we left them in section 103. Governor Dunklin of Missouri had not only refused to call out the Missouri state militia to ensure the saints’ safe passage back to their homes in Jackson County, but he also refused to allow the saints to arm themselves and provide for their own protection. Attempts to work out a satisfactory compromise agreement with the residents of Jackson County had failed, and the saints learned that the residents of Jackson County were armed and waiting to attack them should they attempt to return there. Because it had never been Joseph’s intention to go to war contrary to the laws of the state and of the nation, the governor’s change of policy effectively changed the mission of Zion’s Camp. Joseph used the donated funds and supplies to aid the Missouri saints in Clay County.
In these overwhelmingly discouraging circumstances, while camped near Fishing River on June 22, 1834, Joseph received this revelation. In section 105 the Lord, in essence, told the saints that in consequence of their transgressions, the time was not yet right for Zion to be redeemed. They would yet have to wait “a little season.” The Lord informed Zion’s Camp that he had accepted their sacrifice, and they would not have to fight in Missouri. They were in effect disbanded as an army. They had marched a thousand miles, through all manner of trial and privation to rescue their beleaguered brethren in Missouri, and now they are disbanded thirty miles before they reached their destination! They had come to fight and were emotionally committed to do so, and now they are denied on the very threshold of their goal!
Let us now pick up Milton V. Backman’s account of these frustrating times as he recorded it in his book, The Heavens Resound, 192-200. We will edit his account to fit our purposes.
After the Prophet informed Zion’s Camp that the Lord had accepted their sacrifices, and they would not have to fight the Missourians to help the saints in Missouri regain their lands, some of the men expressed deep disappointment. According to Nathan Tanner, some were so frustrated that they vented their feelings by attacking bushes with their swords and cutting the plants to shreds. A few men simply walked out of camp and apostatized.
As a cruel denouement to this experience, a tragedy struck the camp at this time. On June 21, Ezra Thayer and Joseph Hancock became ill with cholera. Three days later, while the army was encamped on the bank of Rush Creek, about two miles east of Liberty, some of the men who were standing watch were suddenly struck by the disease and fell to the ground, as though they had been shot. The epidemic continued to spread, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. On the evening of June 26, three of the afflicted died. Before the epidemic ended, about seventy persons, including Joseph Smith, had been stricken, and twelve of the soldiers as well as one of the women traveling with Zion’s Camp, Betsy Parrish, had died. The epidemic spread also to some of the Missouri members, and Newell K. Whitney’s business partner, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, died. The epidemic subsided about two weeks after it began.
On July 3, two months and two days after the first members of Zion’s Camp left Kirtland for Missouri, the army finally and officially disbanded when Joseph Smith authorized General Lyman Wight to discharge every member of the camp who had faithfully served during the long march west. After securing their releases, the men scattered. Some returned to their families in the east, while others remained in Missouri, and some returned to the mission field. On that same day the Prophet organized a high council in Missouri to assist Bishop Edward Partridge in administering the affairs of the Church in that part of the country. Joseph also distributed the funds and other donations collected from the eastern saints to those in need in Missouri.
Accompanied by sixteen other men who had marched in Zion’s Camp, Joseph Smith began his journey back to Kirtland on July 9. The party had two horse-drawn wagons, a buggy, and several extra horses. During the journey, they camped at many of the same sites where they had stayed while traveling west. The Prophet arrived in Kirtland about August 1, after a journey of some eighteen hundred miles.
Why would the Lord have allowed this apparent fiasco to occur? Surely he knew the Zion’s Camp army would not have a chance to fight, and yet he allowed them to make this terrible trek. Why did he do it? Even the press made fun of the Mormons. The Painesville Telegraph referred to this event as one of the wildest “goose chases” in history. Some suggested that Joseph Smith could not be a true prophet for getting the Church involved in this affair. As if to rub salt into the wound, the march to Missouri even aggravated the problems of the saints living there. Spurred to action by rumors that the saints were planning an invasion and a massacre of the citizens of Jackson County, some of the Missourians prepared for war, thereby intensifying antagonism against the saints.
Though Zion’s Camp failed to help the Missouri saints regain their lands and was marked by some dissension, apostasy, and unfavorable publicity, many members of the Church recognized positive results from the journey. Through the act of volunteering, the members demonstrated their faith in a living prophet and their interest and concern for the exiled saints in Missouri by traveling to their assistance and taking them money and supplies.
Also, the journey to Missouri proved to be a test to determine those who could best serve in positions of ecclesiastical leadership. On Sunday, February 8, 1835, Joseph Smith invited Brigham Young and his brother Joseph Young to meet with him in his Kirtland home. He told Brigham Young that he was to be one of the twelve special witnesses who were “to open the door of the gospel to foreign nations.” Then he said to Joseph Young, “Brother Joseph, the Lord has made you President of the Seventies.”
He further instructed these men to call a meeting of all brethren. The following Saturday, February 14, members of the priesthood crowded into the new schoolhouse next to the rising temple and listened to instructions from the Prophet. He told the men of Zion’s Camp who were present that God had not “designed” all their trials and suffering “for nothing.” “It was the will of God,” he stated, “that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard.” In February 1835, two new quorums, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (who were chosen by the three Book of Mormon witnesses) and the First Quorum of the Seventy, were organized. Into these quorums were placed many of the men who had sacrificed by marching west with Zion’s Camp. In fact, nine of the original twelve Apostles called in 1835, all seven presidents of the First Council of the Seventy, and all other sixty-three original members of that quorum had served in the army of Israel that marched to western Missouri in 1834.
The most enduring legacy of Zion’s Camp was that it provided valuable training and experience for members of the Church. That the leaders benefited from this experience is evident by their application of the principles they learned while they later marched west under the direction of Brigham Young. The practical training and knowledge derived from participation in Zion’s Camp was not considered by many of the men to be as valuable as the spiritual benefits they received during the march to Missouri. Many declared that they were blessed abundantly as they traveled under the direction and tutelage of the Prophet.
For some participants, Zion’s Camp was a failure. For many others, it was one of the most challenging, rewarding, and faith-promoting experiences of their journey through life.
As we will soon learn, once Joseph is back in Kirtland, he will be commanded by the Lord to continue to raise funds for the purchase of land in Jackson and other counties in Missouri (see D&C 105:28-29). Also the saints in Missouri will continue to petition the courts and legislature of that state for restitution of their losses. Missouri’s Governor Dunklin stated at that time, “As yet none has been punished for these outrages, and it is believed that under our present laws, conviction for any violence committed against a Mormon cannot be had in Jackson County.” Then with obvious circular reasoning, Governor Dunklin further said, “Your only remedy for injuries done must be in and through the courts of justice” (HC, 2:172, 178).
D&C 105 Zion’s Camp Disbanded
D&C 105:5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.
1 Verily I say unto you who have assembled yourselves together that you may learn my will concerning the redemption of mine afflicted people—
verse 1 “mine afflicted people” The Missouri saints.
2 Behold, I say unto you, were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.
verse 2 “the transgressions of my people” This should not be limited to the Missouri saints alone. The Lord had originally requested five hundred volunteers from Kirtland and the East for the Zion’s Camp march, and Joseph had set out originally with barely one hundred. There had been complaining and contentions among members of Zion’s Camp along the way, leading eventually to the scourge of cholera as punishment. Both the Missouri and the Kirtland churches had been warned in previous revelations about their sins (see D&C 95:2-6; 98:19-21; 101:2, 6-8, 50).
3 But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;
verse 3 “and do not impart of their substance” The primary transgression which has prevented the saints from redeeming Zion is their failure to live the celestial law of consecration by giving of their substance for the benefit of the poor among them. Because this is a basic requirement for establishing Zion, the Missouri properties cannot be “redeemed” (verse 2) based on any other principles (see verse 5).
One incident related by Heber C. Kimball, a member of Zion’s Camp, illustrates the selfishness of some of the Missouri saints:
While we were here [Clay County, Missouri], the brethren being in want of some refreshment, Brother Luke Johnson went to Brother Burgett to get a fowl, asking him for one to make a broth for Elder Wilcox and others; but Brother Burgett denied him it, saying “in a few days we expect to return back into Jackson County, and I shall want them when I get there.” When Brother Johnson returned he was so angry at Burgett for refusing him, he said, “I have a great mind to take my rifle and go back and shoot his horse.” I told Luke to never mind, that such actions never fail to bring their reward.
Judge how we felt, after having left the society of our beloved families, taking our lives in our hands and traveling about one thousand miles through scenes of suffering and sorrow, for the benefit of our brethren, and after all to be denied of a small fowl to make a little soup for brethren in the agonies of death. Such things never fail to bring their reward, and it would do well for the saints never to turn away a brother who is penniless and in want, or a stranger, lest they may one day or other want a friend themselves (Life of Heber C. Kimball, 62).
4 And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;
verse 4 “are not united” Compare D&C 38:27: “And if ye are not one ye are not mine.”
5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.
verses 1-5 Zion can only be built up according to the principles of the law of consecration—the “celestial law.” Two principles of this celestial law, which the saints were not living (and because they were not living them they were prevented from establishing Zion at that time), were unity and caring for the poor and unfortunate.
6 And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.
verse 6 “my people must needs be chastened” “Chastened” should be understood here to mean partly “corrected by punishment” but also “purified from errors or faults.” The emphasis here is not on the punishment the saints are to receive, but on their intended correction and their purification from error. There are times when the path to being more like God leads us of necessity through suffering for our mistakes, yet God’s primary concern is not that we be punished, but that we be corrected. Still, the primary goal of bringing about repentance is often assisted by punishment which God administers in love to those whom he loves.
7 I speak not concerning those who are appointed to lead my people, who are the first elders of my church, for they are not all under this condemnation;
verse 7 “the first elders of my church” Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are not among the transgressors (see D&C 20:2).
8 But I speak concerning my churches abroad—there are many who will say: Where is their God? Behold, he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and will keep our moneys.
verse 8 “churches abroad” This is the usual designation for congregations outside of Kirtland, Ohio.
“Where is their God?” The Lord addresses the skepticism of those Latter-day Saints who are waiting to see whether or not God will redeem Zion before they will commit their money to Zion’s Camp or to the larger interests of establishing Zion at all. This, of course, is backwards. While it might make good sense in the logic of Babylon, in the Lord’s economy the blessings only come after the trail of one’s faith or after much tribulation (see D&C 58:4; Ether 12:6).
9 Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—
verse 9 “mine elders should wait for a little season” This is the statement that fell so hard onto the ears of the members of Zion’s Camp. The redemption of Zion must wait a “little season.”
10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.
verse 10 The Lord is ready for the redemption of Zion, but the Church is inadequately prepared.
It may be said that there are eight requirements that must be met before we, as a Church, will be allowed to establish Zion. This verse lists three: 1. be better prepared; 2. be taught more perfectly; and 3. have greater experience in living the gospel. The others are: 4. we must be endowed with power from on high (verse 11); 5. become a great army of people (verse 31), 6. become sanctified (verse 31); 7. learn obedience (verses 3, 6); and 8. become united (verse 4).
As an interesting exercise, compare the saints of that day with the ones of today using these eight items as criteria. You should conclude that we have made much headway in all areas.
11 And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.
verse 11 “endowed with power from on high” Aside from the collective unfaithfulness of the saints at that time, another great difficulty facing the elders in trying to redeem Zion was their lack of knowledge of the power to be received in the house of the Lord. The Kirtland Temple would be dedicated in March 1836, at which time some of the ordinances of the temple will be available to these elders and church leaders. Thus, the “little season” (verse 13) was originally a two-year period during which the elders would wait for certain ordinances in the Kirtland Temple before Zion could be redeemed. However, further transgressions will cause that little season to be extended until “after many days,” when the Lord will accomplish all things pertaining to Zion (verse 37).
12 For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me.
verses 11-12 “a great endowment” Before Zion can be reestablished, the saints needed an endowment from on high—perhaps the temple ordinances or the keys of the priesthood to be received in the Kirtland Temple (see also verses 18 and 33).
13 Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion.
verse 13 “it is expedient in me” One of the definitions of expedient in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is, “Useful; profitable.”
14 For behold, I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfil—I will fight your battles.
verse 14 “I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion” The Lord tells the elders of Zion’s Camp that at this time he does not require them to fight in Missouri. Most members of Zion’s Camp were grateful that the Lord had accepted their offering and that they did not have to fight. However, a few, caught up in the spirit of war and bloodshed, were disappointed, and some even apostatized when the Camp was disbanded without fighting.
“I will fight your battles” The Lord had promised the saints ten months earlier in D&C 98:37 that he would fight their battles.
15 Behold, the destroyer I have sent forth to destroy and lay waste mine enemies; and not many years hence they shall not be left to pollute mine heritage, and to blaspheme my name upon the lands which I have consecrated for the gathering together of my saints.
verse 15 “the destroyer I have sent forth” The Lord had already set in motion the historical events that would lead to the destructions prophesied upon his enemies. There would still be a process of “many years” during which the saints would seek out and exhaust in vain all the legal remedies of the nation (see D&C 101:85-89; see also the introductory commentary for section 87). Nevertheless, the eventual outcome of the struggle is sure when the Lord fights one’s battles. He will eventually do so, and Zion will be established.
16 Behold, I have commanded my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., to say unto the strength of my house, even my warriors, my young men, and middle-aged, to gather together for the redemption of my people, and throw down the towers of mine enemies, and scatter their watchmen;
verse 16 The Lord’s reference here is to D&C 101:43-62 (especially verses 5557) which is the parable of the nobleman’s vineyard which, inadequately protected due to the failure of the watchmen to build a tower, is invaded by the enemy causing the nobleman’s servants to flee (this is a parable of the saints in Independence who had failed to build a temple as they had been commanded). We will learn in the following verse that these “young men, and middle-aged,” the strength of the Church, commanded to establish and protect the vineyard, have not as yet responded to the Lord’s command.
17 But the strength of mine house have not hearkened unto my words.
verse 17 Taken all together, the Church had not obeyed sufficiently to redeem Zion at this time. When the Lord requested five hundred men, he eventually got two hundred, but only one hundred and five set out from Kirtland in early May. Many in the Church were waiting to see how Zion’s Camp turned out before contributing their money (see verse 8), and even if the governor had supported the saints in returning to Jackson County, the Lord would not allow Zion to be redeemed until the saints learned to impart of their substance to the poor and afflicted among them (see verses 3, 5).
18 But inasmuch as there are those who have hearkened unto my words, I have prepared a blessing and an endowment for them, if they continue faithful.
19 I have heard their prayers, and will accept their offering; and it is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith.
verses 18-19 Nevertheless, there were a sufficient number of faithful saints for the Lord to accept their offering as part for the whole. Zion might not be redeemed at this time, but the endowment of power from on high might still be given—if they continued faithful. These faithful saints, like the patriarchs of old, had been tested with a trial of their faith. Among the blessings that followed the suffering of Zion’s Camp were the preparatory ordinances of the Kirtland Temple. Also, nine of the original Quorum of the Twelve and all of the First Quorum of the Seventy would be called from those who volunteered for Zion’s Camp. A further blessing that is sometimes overlooked is that the elders were not required to fight any battles or to shed blood.
The Lord reserves a special blessing of “power from on high” for those who strive most valiantly. This special blessing is given today as the “endowment” for those who keep their most sacred and most difficult covenants entered into in the temple. The temple in Kirtland was a preparatory temple and all the covenants now available in our temple were not available then. The experience of the Zion’s Camp march was thought to be an exercise in valiance similar to successfully keeping one’s temple covenants. Some of the endowment of power would be received by those who participated valiantly in the Zion’s Camp March. Also some of this endowment would obviously be available to those who participated in the ordinances of the Kirtland Temple (see verse 33). For a discussion of the endowment of “power from on high,” see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 18, The Temple.
20 And now, verily I say unto you, a commandment I give unto you, that as many as have come up hither, that can stay in the region round about, let them stay;
verse 20 “let them stay” It should perhaps be noted that even though the Kirtland Temple was yet to be finished and the Church would yet receive important ordinances there, the geographical center of the Church had clearly shifted to the west.
The Lord commands that those members of Zion’s Camp who wished to remain in Missouri should be allowed to do so.
21 And those that cannot stay, who have families in the east, let them tarry for a little season, inasmuch as my servant Joseph shall appoint unto them;
22 For I will counsel him concerning this matter, and all things whatsoever he shall appoint unto them shall be fulfilled.
23 And let all my people who dwell in the regions round about be very faithful, and prayerful, and humble before me, and reveal not the things which I have revealed unto them, until it is wisdom in me that they should be revealed.
verse 23 “reveal not the things which I have revealed unto them” The Church in Jackson County had made some rather foolish public relations errors that contributed to their being driven out of that place. Here the Lord counsels the saints in Clay County and elsewhere in Missouri to be more wise in what they say to the “old settlers” about the future of Zion.
24 Talk not of judgments, neither boast of faith nor of mighty works, but carefully gather together, as much in one region as can be, consistently with the feelings of the people;
verse 24 “Talk not of judgments” The Lord commands the saints to practice good public relations and avoid arousing negative feelings among the people of the region. Certainly, few things would be more frightening to the old settlers than talk of “judgments” or “might works” misinterpreted as threats from the saints aimed at the nonLatter-day Saint population of Missouri. Here the Lord instructs his saints to be nonthreatening in their conversation and behavior toward those not of their faith.
25 And behold, I will give unto you favor and grace in their eyes, that you may rest in peace and safety, while you are saying unto the people: Execute judgment and justice for us according to law, and redress us of our wrongs.
verses 25-28 “I will give unto you favor and grace in their eyes” The Lord counsels the Missouri saints not to brag about doctrinal plans for the redemption of Zion, so as not to antagonize the Missourians. They should “keep it under their hats” until the time is right. If the saints will only be wise and prudent in their public relations, the Lord will bless them with peace and safety. This policy will also allow Joseph and the Church time to prosper and accomplish the purposes of Zion by peaceful means, while at the same time collecting the strength to provide security for the Church in the exercise of its rights. The army of Israel is not for conquest, for the Lord fights Israel’s battles (see D&C 98:37; 105:14). Rather, the army is only for security in the exercise of Israel’s rights (see verse 30).
26 Now, behold, I say unto you, my friends, in this way you may find favor in the eyes of the people, until the army of Israel becomes very great.
27 And I will soften the hearts of the people, as I did the heart of Pharaoh, from time to time, until my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and mine elders, whom I have appointed, shall have time to gather up the strength of my house,
28 And to have sent wise men, to fulfil that which I have commanded concerning the purchasing of all the lands in Jackson county that can be purchased, and in the adjoining counties round about.
29 For it is my will that these lands should be purchased; and after they are purchased that my saints should possess them according to the laws of consecration which I have given.
verses 28-29 Even after the saints had been driven from Jackson County by mobs, and even after Zion’s Camp had marched to Clay County under arms, the Lord still insists that the only way property shall be acquired for Zion is by legal purchase. This restates his instructions to the saints first delivered in July 1831 in D&C 57:4 and often repeated (see, for example, D&C 58:37, 49-52; 63:27-30; 101:70-71).
verses 30-32 These verses express long-term millennial goals and prophecies of the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth.
30 And after these lands are purchased, I will hold the armies of Israel guiltless in taking possession of their own lands, which they have previously purchased with their moneys, and of throwing down the towers of mine enemies that may be upon them, and scattering their watchmen, and avenging me of mine enemies unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
verse 30 The Lord assures the members of Zion’s Camp and the saints in general that the Church will eventually acquire sufficient lands in Jackson County on which to found Zion, that he will hold the saints guiltless for their failures in establishing Zion (see the parable in D&C 101:43-62), and that he will fight the saints’ battles for them.
31 But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations;
32 That the kingdoms of this world may be constrained to acknowledge that the kingdom of Zion is in very deed the kingdom of our God and his Christ; therefore, let us become subject unto her laws.
33 Verily I say unto you, it is expedient in me that the first elders of my church should receive their endowment from on high in my house, which I have commanded to be built unto my name in the land of Kirtland.
verse 33 “the first elders of my church should receive their endowment from on high in my house” See the commentary for verse 11.
34 And let those commandments which I have given concerning Zion and her law be executed and fulfilled, after her redemption.
35 There has been a day of calling, but the time has come for a day of choosing; and let those be chosen that are worthy.
verse 35 “a day of calling . . . a day of choosing” To be “called” is to have been foreordained in the premortal existence to keep the Lord’s commandments and labor in his earthly kingdom. Thus, the “day of calling” is that premortal day in which spirit hands were laid on the heads of the potential future leaders in the Lord’s earthly kingdom. To be “chosen” is to have performed one’s stewardship so faithfully that the individual is eventually sealed up to their exaltation in the celestial kingdom (see also D&C 121:34-37 and the commentary for those verses). Thus, the “day of choosing” is imminent, the day of the great final judgment. In a more limited sense, the “day of choosing” will also occur when the prophet Joseph selects those Missouri saints who are worthy to receive the ordinances of the Kirtland Temple when it is completed (see verse 36).
36 And it shall be manifest unto my servant, by the voice of the Spirit, those that are chosen; and they shall be sanctified;
verse 36 “it shall be manifest unto my servant” On June 23, 1834, the day after section 105 was received, Joseph Smith assembled a council of Missouri high priests and selected fifteen to travel to Kirtland to receive ordinances when the temple is completed there. They were Edward Partridge, William W. Phelps, Isaac Morley, John Corrill, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, A. Sidney Gilbert, Peter Whitmer Jr., Simeon Carter, Newel Knight, Parley P. Pratt, Christian Whitmer, Solomon Hancock, Thomas B. March, and Lyman Wight.
37 And inasmuch as they follow the counsel which they receive, they shall have power after many days to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion.
verse 37 “after many days” Even when faithful saints have been endowed with power from on high, the Lord reveals that it will still be after many days that all things pertaining to Zion will be accomplished.
38 And again I say unto you, sue for peace, not only to the people that have smitten you, but also to all people;
verse 38 “sue for peace” To sue, in this context, means to appeal, woo, or court.
39 And lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth;
40 And make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good.
verses 39-40 Note the irony of the Lord’s closing this revelation on Zion’s Camp with these two verses. The armed force of saints were sent to Missouri to redeem the persecuted saints there by force if necessary. But here, the Lord closes this revelation with a commandment to seek and proclaim peace.
41 Therefore, be faithful; and behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end. Even so. Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
During the month of November, Oliver Cowdery’s oldest brother, Warren, was called by revelation to be branch president of the small branch where he lived in Freedom, New York [D&C 106 -Warren A. Cowdery].
- Michael J. Preece