Section 136: The Word and Will of the Lord for the Camp of Israel
This section was received by Brigham Young in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, on January 14, 1847. In April of 1847, some of the saints would leave Winter Quarters and travel to the Great Basin, or the Salt Lake Valley. But, wait a moment. Let’s back up a little in time to get a feel for the events leading up to Brigham’s receiving this revelation.
Actually a move to the west and to the Rocky Mountains was foreseen several years prior to 1847. As early as 1834 in Kirtland, the Prophet told the saints, “This people will go into the Rocky Mountains. They will raise up a posterity there, and the Latter-day Saints who dwell in these mountains will stand in the flesh until the coming of the Son of Man. The Son of Man will come to them while in the Rocky Mountains” (CR, Wilford Woodruff, April 1897, 57).
In Nauvoo, as antagonism against the saints was mounting, Joseph began to make preparations for the move west. In February 1844 he “instructed the twelve apostles to send out a delegation and investigate the locations of California and Oregon, and hunt out a good location where we can remove to after the temple is completed” (HC, 6:222).
In March 1844, a council was organized to take care of the temporal needs of the saints. This council has been variously referred to as the “Special Council,” the “General Council,” or the “Council of Fifty.” The latter name derived from the approximate number of men which composed its ranks. This council was composed of most, if not all, of the Church’s leadership and some other non-members. One of the assigned duties of this body was to plan and carry out the westward trek.
By the winter of 1846-47, literally thousands of saints were scattered along the trail across Iowa between Nauvoo and Winter Quarters with the majority camped at Winter Quarters. It was obvious that before the saints could successfully make the arduous trek west to the Great Basin, many preparations would have to be completed. While they waited for favorable weather conditions that would permit them to travel, several planning meetings were held among the brethren. There was a pressing need for a formal organization for the companies of saints that would make the trek.
Finally on January 14, 1847, after a meeting with a number of the brethren, during which they discussed the best methods for organizing the companies of saints— the “Camp of Israel,” the plan crystallized in the mind of Brigham Young. The minutes of that meeting are of interest and provide insight into the historical setting at the time:
At 12:30 PM President Young met with Elders Kimball, Richards, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson, and Captain Hosea Stout in council at Elder Kimball’s. President Young proposed that a letter be written to instruct the brethren how to organize companies for emigration, and that Ezra T. Benson and Erastus Snow form an Emigration company, Number three, appoint a presidency of three, and captains of hundreds, fifties, and tens, a clerk, and oversee them. Also that Orson Pratt and Wilford Woodruff organize another company, Number four, and that Amasa Lyman and George A. Smith organize Company Number five.
President Young commenced to give the Word and Will of God concerning the emigration of the saints and those who journey with them. At 4:30 PM the council adjourned.
At seven, the Twelve met at Elder Benson’s. President Young continued to dictate the word and will of the Lord. Council adjourned at ten PM, when President Young returned with Dr. Richards to the Octagon [Willard Richards’ house at Winter Quarters] and finished writing the same which is here inserted [D&C 136] (Journal History of the Church, 14 January 1847, as quoted in Woodford, “Historical Development,” 1803).
Section 136 may be divided into two general parts. The first deals with the make-up and responsibilities of the companies which were to be created for the travel west. The second deals with the social and spiritual requirements of those individuals who would compose the companies.
D&C 136 The Word and Will of the Lord for the Camp of Israel
D&C 136:36-38 For they killed the prophets, and them that were sent unto them; and they have shed innocent blood, which crieth from the ground against them. Therefore, marvel not at these things, for ye are not yet pure; ye can not yet bear my glory; but ye shall behold it if ye are faithful in keeping all my words that I have given you, from the days of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Jesus and his apostles, and from Jesus and his apostles to Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work; Which foundation he did lay, and was faithful; and I took him to myself.
1 The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West:
verse 1 “The Word and Will of the Lord” It is obvious that revelation did not end with the death of Joseph Smith.
verses 2-16 These verses instructed the saints to organize companies of hundreds, fifties, and tens for the trip across the plains to the Rocky Mountains. Except for Erastus Snow, who will be ordained an apostle two years later, the men named in these verses were members of the Quorum of the Twelve and had the responsibility to ensure that the saints arrived safely at their destination. They were given ecclesiastical authority over their companies of the wagon train, as President Young exercised authority over the whole of the saints. Brigham Young learned much from watching the prophet Joseph organize and preside over Zion’s Camp on the march from Kirtland toward Jackson County in 1834. Some of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve named in these verses were also in Zion’s Camp and had experienced the challenges of moving a group of people over difficult terrain.
2 Let all the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those who journey with them, be organized into companies, with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God.
verses 2, 4 “with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God” See the commentary for verse 4.
3 Let the companies be organized with captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, and captains of tens, with a president and his two counselors at their head, under the direction of the Twelve Apostles.
verse 3 The organization of the company is outlined. A company consisted of about one hundred families. The highest ranking captain over this group was called the “captain of one hundred.” A presidency (president and two counselors) presided over the company and its captains.
Remember that this revelation was given to a specific group of people who lived at a specific time and had a specific task ahead of them. Though there are timeless elements in it, its application was largely there and then. We thus learn that the Lord not only directs affairs with eternal consequences but also those on a more practical and mundane level.
4 And this shall be our covenant—that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord.
verse 4 “And this shall be our covenant” As with ancient Israel, with whom God established his covenant and then led them into the Promised Land, the saints were expected by the Lord to bind themselves by making a covenant to live the gospel in order to ensure themselves blessings both spiritual and temporal as they traveled west (see D&C 130:20-21 and D&C 132:5).
Eight and one-half years earlier, when the saint were driven from Missouri and crossed the Mississippi River to settle in and around Quincy Illinois, Brigham Young, who as the presiding apostle was responsible for the safe exodus of the saints, drew up what is referred to as the “Missouri Covenant.” This document proposed that the members do everything possible never to desert the righteous poor and to give all that they had to help them to Illinois (HC, 3:250-54). During a general conference in Nauvoo on October 6, 1845, the saints covenanted to “take all the saints with us, to the extent of our ability, that is, our influence and property” (HC, 7:465). That covenant may have been considered part of the covenant to “walk in all the ordinances of the Lord.” The “Nauvoo Covenant” became the binding responsibility of the saints on the trek west.
5 Let each company provide themselves with all the teams, wagons, provisions, clothing, and other necessaries for the journey, that they can.
6 When the companies are organized let them go to with their might, to prepare for those who are to tarry.
7 Let each company, with their captains and presidents, decide how many can go next spring; then choose out a sufficient number of able-bodied and expert men, to take teams, seeds, and farming utensils, to go as pioneers to prepare for putting in spring crops.
verse 7 This verse is the Lord’s commission to the original pioneer company to make a quick dash to the Great Basin in order to get the crops planted and make a road. This was the company led by Brigham Young which consisted of 143 men, three women, and two children. They traveled in seventy-three wagons. They departed Israel Winter Quarters early in April and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley July 24, 1847.
8 Let each company bear an equal proportion, according to the dividend of their property, in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people.
verse 8 Those among the saints who were poor, widowed, or fatherless (including families of those who had joined the Mormon Battalion) were divided equally among the various companies so that all might be provided for.
9 Let each company prepare houses, and fields for raising grain, for those who are to remain behind this season; and this is the will of the Lord concerning his people.
verse 9 Not all members of the Church living in the Winter Quarters area traveled in the first company of saints to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Those who, for one reason or another, had to be left behind for a time were to be provided with houses and crops by the total effort of their company (their own efforts not excluded, of course). Many converts had joined the saints driven from Nauvoo.
Houses were built and crops were planted by those who remained in the Midwest for quite another reason. These were to be used by those saints traveling across Iowa heading for Winter Quarters and eventually to the west. For this purpose, the saints established settlements at Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, Iowa, and at other locations between Nauvoo and Winter Quarters.
10 Let every man use all his influence and property to remove this people to the place where the Lord shall locate a stake of Zion.
verse 10 “Let every man use all his influence and property” Even though the saints were organized into companies, each saint had an individual responsibility to make the whole venture succeed.
11 And if ye do this with a pure heart, in all faithfulness, ye shall be blessed; you shall be blessed in your flocks, and in your herds, and in your fields, and in your houses, and in your families.
verse 11 In the Lord’s eyes, there is no separation between spiritual and temporal (D&C 29:34-35).. By faithfully following the Lord’s temporal commands, the saints would receive both temporal and spiritual blessings.
12 Let my servants Ezra T. Benson and Erastus Snow organize a company.
verse 12 On July 16, 1846, Ezra T. Benson, the first apostle called after the death of the prophet Joseph, replaced Joseph’s brother William, who had been dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve and excommunicated from the Church in October 1845. Elder Benson was the great-grandfather of Ezra Taft Benson, the thirteenth President of the Church.
13 And let my servants Orson Pratt and Wilford Woodruff organize a company. 14 Also, let my servants Amasa Lyman and George A. Smith organize a company. 15 And appoint presidents, and captains of hundreds, and of fifties, and of tens.
verses 12-14 The Lord instructs Brigham in the formation of the traveling companies 3, 4, and 5 (see the introductory commentary for this section).
16 And let my servants that have been appointed go and teach this, my will, to the saints, that they may be ready to go to a land of peace.
verse 16 “let my servants . . . go and teach this, my will, to the saints” On the day after this section was received, messengers were dispatched with copies of the revelation to travel to the various camps of saints and read it to them. There was obvious urgency to get the word out. The weather conditions were miserable with sub zero temperatures, yet the messengers left promptly. Within a few days these messenger-riders had read the revelation to each camp of saints stretched clear across Iowa, and each of the saints had had a chance to sustain the action.
17 Go thy way and do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies; for they shall not have power to stop my work.
18 Zion shall be redeemed in mine own due time.
verses 17-18 What, Lord? We’re going west to the Rocky Mountains? Wait a minute! What about establishing Zion in Missouri? As the saints began their trek west, they left behind the hope of soon returning to the place the Lord had designated as the “center place of Zion,” Jackson County, Missouri (see D&C 57:1-3). Some were concerned that they were abandoning Zion. The Lord indicated that they were not, in fact, abandoning Zion. Rather, the building of Zion would continue, and in his “own due time” all that had been promised concerning Zion would be realized.
verses 19-30 Specific counsel is given to the saints regarding their deportment on the trek. We tend to think that the early pioneers were a sanctified bunch who were above sin. These verses remind us that they were humans and certainly not above reproach. Theirs was not an ordinary wagon train but rather a wagon train of Zion. Therefore, they were to live the principles of Zion. The Lord told them not to seek to build themselves up nor obtain power (see verses 19) but rather to assist each other. They were to live by their word (see verse 20), refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain (see verse 21), and deal justly with each other (see verses 25-27). If they were merry, they were to praise the Lord in song, but if they were sorrowful, they were to call on him in supplication that their souls might be joyful (see verses 28-29).
19 And if any man shall seek to build up himself, and seeketh not my counsel, he shall have no power, and his folly shall be made manifest.
verse 19 “if any man shall seek to build up himself” It is natural for an individual to be more concerned for himself or herself than for the welfare of another. However, those who are spiritually inclined will overcome that natural tendency and put the welfare of others on a par with or ahead of their own. Anyone in this group of saints who would seek to build up himself, and not seek the Lord’s counsel, “shall have no power, and his folly shall be made manifest”—others would see him for what he really was.
20 Seek ye; and keep all your pledges one with another; and covet not that which is thy brother’s.
verse 20 “keep all your pledges one with another” The Lord appeals to the saints to let their word be binding and completely trustworthy. The Lord gives this same advice in Matthew 5:37: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
21 Keep yourselves from evil to take the name of the Lord in vain, for I am the Lord your God, even the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.
verse 21 “Keep yourselves from evil to take the name of the Lord in vain”
For a discussion of this command, see the commentary on D&C 63:61-62.
22 I am he who led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; and my arm is stretched out in the last days, to save my people Israel.
verse 22 “my arm is stretched out in the last days” The Lord’s hand and arm are the symbols of his power. Here, he promises to utilize his power on behalf of his people.
23 Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another.
24 Cease drunkenness; and let your words tend to edifying one another.
verse 24 “Cease drunkenness” Although they had been given the Word of Wisdom in February 1833, which prohibited the use of strong drinks, the saints still used some alcoholic drinks. Not until the late 1800s and early 1900s did the Lord enforce the injunction against the use of strong drinks.
25 If thou borrowest of thy neighbor, thou shalt restore that which thou hast borrowed; and if thou canst not repay then go straightway and tell thy neighbor, lest he condemn thee.
26 If thou shalt find that which thy neighbor has lost, thou shalt make diligent search till thou shalt deliver it to him again.
27 Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward; for it is the free gift of the Lord thy God, and thou art his steward.
verse 27 “Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast” Although many were leaving Nauvoo with few material possessions, if they cared for what they had, they would be watched over by the Lord. The Lord reminded them that whatever they had was his and they were stewards over it and should care for it. Whatever we have is a “free gift of the Lord” (see D&C 72:3-4; D&C 104:12-14).
28 If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
verse 28 “praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing” At a time when singing and dancing were viewed (and still are, by some) as contrary to the commandments of God, this revelation was given to encourage the worship of God in song and dance. Elder David O. McKay observed: “The ‘Mormon Church’ has always encouraged legitimate amusements. . . . In Nauvoo we find the drama introduced by the Prophet Joseph. . . . Even on the plains, after a day’s march, the wagons were drawn up in a circle, a man with the violin would take his place by the campfire, and there on the prairie the sturdy Pioneers would join hands in a dance, opening it by prayer, and participate in amusement that fostered the spirit of the gospel. . . .
President Brigham Young . . . once said, in substance: ‘The atmosphere of the dance should be such that if any elder be called from the party to go to administer to a sick person, he could leave with the same spirit that he would go from his elders’ quorum meeting’” (CR, April 1920, 117).
29 If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful.
30 Fear not thine enemies, for they are in mine hands and I will do my pleasure with them.
31 My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
verse 31 “My people must be tried in all things” See the commentary for D&C 101:4. See also Adversity and Suffering in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 1.
32 Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear;
33 For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly.
verses 32-33 “Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom” Ignorance is a lack of knowledge, most often due to lack of effort or interest. In this case, the Lord is warning the saints not to be ignorant of the gospel and other information available to them as they make the trip west. The Spirit of the Lord is an educator. It is sent forth to teach the humble and the contrite. If individuals want to learn the things of God, through humility their eyes will be opened to spiritual things and their ears will be opened to hear spiritual things. Ignorance, in this sense, is truly a sin.
34 Thy brethren have rejected you and your testimony, even the nation that has driven you out;
verse 34 “the nation that has driven you out” We often discuss the unbelief of ancient Israel and the fact that they rejected and killed the prophets sent from God. We do not as often think of the actions of the citizens and government of the United States in driving the saints from its borders and killing the prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith as being similar. Thus, the condemnation that was placed upon ancient Israel could also apply to the United States.
35 And now cometh the day of their calamity, even the days of sorrow, like a woman that is taken in travail; and their sorrow shall be great unless they speedily repent, yea, very speedily. 36 For they killed the prophets, and them that were sent unto them; and they have shed innocent blood, which crieth from the ground against them.
verses 34-36 “now cometh the day of their calamity” The “day of their calamity, even the days of sorrow” would come upon the United States if there was not repentance. It would appear that it is a serious thing to reject the message and testimony of the Lord’s servants. Some have suggested that the Civil War dealt retribution to some who rejected the testimony of the Lord’s messengers, and that this war could have been at least a partial fulfillment of this warning. For example, in a talk given in October 1865, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Elder George A. Smith observed: “There is a great deal said about the origin of the trouble between the North and the South . . . but the fact is, the people did not respect the Constitution of our country; for the Latter-day Saints were driven in violation thereof from Jackson County to Clay, and from Clay to Caldwell and Daviess Counties, and then from the State of Missouri to Illinois, and from Illinois to the Rocky Mountains, robbed and plundered of their property, their women ravished, their leaders murdered, and there was not a solitary man arose to enforce the law or the Constitution in our defence” (JD, 11:17980).
verses 37-39 Here the Lord bears his testimony of the mission and faithfulness of the prophet Joseph Smith.
37 Therefore, marvel not at these things, for ye are not yet pure; ye can not yet bear my glory; but ye shall behold it if ye are faithful in keeping all my words that I have given you, from the days of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Jesus and his apostles, and from Jesus and his apostles to Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work;
verses 36-37 These verses divide the history of the world into four historical periods: Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, Moses to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ to this final dispensation. In these verses, which form the very foundation for the present-day first missionary discussion, the Lord summarizes the series of restorations and apostasies which have occurred since the time of Adam.
38 Which foundation he did lay, and was faithful; and I took him to myself.
verse 38 The Lord reassures the saints of the fact of the Prophet Joseph’s exaltation.
39 Many have marveled because of his death; but it was needful that he should seal his testimony with his blood, that he might be honored and the wicked might be condemned.
verse 39 “Many have marveled because of his death” To marvel is to wonder. Why was it that the Prophet of the restoration needed to die? President Wilford Woodruff was one of those—even though he was close to the Prophet and understood his mission—who wondered why. He indicated that he had “peculiar feelings” about the way that the Prophet’s death had come about and wondered if it had not been possible for Joseph to escape to the Rocky Mountains to continue to lead the Church. However, he stated, “Since then I have been fully reconciled to the fact that it was according to the programme, that it was required of him as the head of this dispensation, that he should seal his testimony with his blood, and go hence to the spirit world, holding the keys of this dispensation, to open up the mission that is now being performed by way of preaching the Gospel to the “spirits in prison’” (JD, 24:54).
“seal his testimony with his blood” The prophet Joseph Smith and the patriarch Hyrum Smith joined the ranks of ancient prophets and apostles who had given their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ by the shedding of their blood. The testimonies of Joseph and Hyrum are not ordinary testimonies. They are binding upon the inhabitants of the world. They are sealed with innocent blood. To accept them is to begin the journey to exaltation. To reject them is to risk the condemnation of the Almighty God who called them and bore his own testimony of them. Prophets do not give their lives casually. Those who are called upon to do so leave a witness to all generations that their work is true.
40 Have I not delivered you from your enemies, only in that I have left a witness of my name?
verse 40 “I have left a witness of my name” Many of the enemies of the Church thought that if Joseph Smith were killed, the Church would fall apart and the “scourge” of Mormonism would be erased from the earth. That the Church continued after the death of Joseph Smith and the saints’ move to the Rocky Mountains is a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Restoration. In very deed, the Lord has left a witness of his name. It is being carried forth throughout the world by those who have the restored authority to declare his name to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
41 Now, therefore, hearken, O ye people of my church; and ye elders listen together; you have received my kingdom.
42 Be diligent in keeping all my commandments, lest judgments come upon you, and your faith fail you, and your enemies triumph over you. So no more at present. Amen and Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
Early in April, Brigham led an advanced party of just under one hundred and fifty saints the one thousand miles to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving on July 24, 1847.
- Michael J. Preece