Section 25: An Elect Lady — Emma Smith
By July of 1830 it had been three and one half years since Joseph and Emma had married. They were married on January 18, 1827. Joseph was now twenty-four years old and Emma just turning twenty-six. Emma was born the seventh of nine children to Isaac and Elizabeth Hale on July 10, 1804, in Harmony, Pennsylvania. It is reported that Emma was a beautiful woman with an attractive personality, and she had the reputation of being a refined and dignified individual who was an excellent housekeeper and cook. Her Methodist upbringing had helped her develop a great love of music.
Emma married Joseph knowing that if she became his wife, she would share in the persecution. She was a woman of faith and courage. As persecution was heaped upon the Church from its inception, Emma, of course, experienced it also. Even apart from the harassment, however, life had been difficult for Emma. Three and a half years of marriage had afforded few moments of uninterrupted domestic peace. She had nearly perished herself when her firstborn son died in childbirth in June 1828. Joseph was gone from their home in Harmony more than half of the time, beginning in the winter of 1829-30, seeing to the publication of the Book of Mormon, organizing the Church, preaching, and baptizing. She had accompanied Joseph to Colesville and had seen him arrested and tried twice and a mob threaten to tar and feather him. When Joseph and Oliver had to flee home from Colesville to Harmony, she had been pregnant with twins. Also adding to her stress was the fact that her parents and other members of her family never did believe in Joseph’s mission. Of Emma, the Prophet’s mother Lucy Mack Smith, wrote:
I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure. . . . She has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other woman (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 190-91).
She passed through many trials and shared them in an admirable way, as did the faithful wives of other church leaders. Of course she was also human and possessed emotions found in all of us. Being the wife of the man whom the Lord had blessed, she felt she was entitled to some special considerations. It was, for example, difficult for her to understand why she could not view the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and other sacred things. At times this altogether human thought caused her to murmur and question Joseph as to why she was denied this privilege.
Section 25 was given to Emma in July 1830, after Joseph and Emma had returned to their home in Harmony. Perhaps it was received near the time of her birthday, to encourage and instruct her. Section 25 is unique because it is the only section that is addressed to a woman. This revelation to Emma includes many elements that we might find in a patriarchal blessing. Some of the instructions, admonitions, and promises to Emma pertain to the present and others to the future. The promised opportunities and blessings are predicated upon faithfulness and obedience.
D&C 25 An Elect Lady — Emma Smith
D&C 25:12 My soul delighteth in the song of the heart; the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.
1 Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.
verse 1 “Emma Smith, my daughter”This is not God the Father addressing Emma as his spirit-daughter. Rather, this is Jesus Christ referring to her as a spiritually begotten daughter, born again as his child through her baptism and his atonement.
“all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom”The scriptures teach the doctrine that all those who make the covenants of baptism can be born again into the kingdom of God and become sons or daughters of the Savior because they are “spiritually begotten” by him (see Mosiah 5:7; 4 Nephi 1:17; Mormon 9:26; Ether 3:14; Ephesians 1:5; Moses 6:64-68). Such persons are distinguished from all the other children of God who live on this earth through the reception of these covenants. Those who will not enter into such covenants are called the sons and daughters of men (see Moses 8:14-15), and others who sin to the extent that Cain did are called sons of perdition (Moses 5:24; D&C 76:31-32).
Those who are “sons and daughters in my kingdom” are members of the kingdom of God on earth. How do we maintain our positions as sons and daughters of God? We endure to the end. And what does that mean? It does not mean to hang on to your spiritual progress for dear life hoping that death will get you before you begin to backslide. Rather it means to continue to progress spiritually by pro-actively seeking the Spirit’s counsel as to how you might improve—of what you might repent—and then continuing to deny your natural self and obeying the Lord’s commands.
2 A revelation I give unto you concerning my will; and if thou art faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before me, I will preserve thy life, and thou shalt receive an inheritance in Zion.
verse 2 “I will preserve thy life”The Lord here may well be referring to her mortal life. This promise was literally fulfilled for Emma in the years following this revelation. Each time the mobs attacked Joseph, Emma and their children were also in danger. The conflict in Missouri with its extermination order and winter exodus killed many of the saints and proved very difficult for Emma, but through all these afflictions the Lord did preserve her life.
3 Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called.
verse 3 “thou art an elect lady, whom I have called”Elect does not mean “special” or “superior” but is a synonym for “called.” For example, elected officials are not intended to be special or superior citizens, but rather citizens called by vote of the people to serve the people. God’s called or elect people are those selected by God to serve him in doing his work upon the earth. They are called or elected in the premortal world because of the spiritual qualifications which they possessed at the time of their election. Can there be any doubt that Emma was especially valiant in the premortal world and that she was foreordained while in that realm to be the companion of the prophet of the restoration?
In March 1842 Joseph will explain that this verse has been partially fulfilled by Emma’s calling to preside over the newly organized Relief Society. At that time, “Joseph read to his wife the revelation given in July 1830, wherein she was called an elect lady and told the sisters that this appellation meant that she was to be elected to a certain work; this revelation was fulfilled in her election to the presidency of the Society” (Ivan J. Barrett, Joseph Smith and the Restoration, 506. Citing HC, 4:552-53).
The well-known scriptural passage “there are many called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:34) is worth mentioning here. In this verse (D&C 121:34), the word called means “elected.” In the same verse (again, D&C 121:34) the word chosen means sealed up to eternal life or “exalted.”
4 Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come.
verse 4 As mentioned previously, Emma had wondered why she had not been allowed to view the plates and the Urim and Thummim (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:125). The Lord admonishes her and tells her that it is for a wise purpose to be made known in time to come, why she and the world were deprived of this privilege.
5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.
verse 5 “the office of thy calling”The Lord explains that Emma’s stewardship at present is to support her husband. While Joseph was engaged in the sublime work, he continually had to fend off the ignorant and the vicious. How needful, how wonderful, to have a wife—his closest friend and companion—to help, comfort, and console him.
6 And thou shalt go with him at the time of his going, and be unto him for a scribe, while there is no one to be a scribe for him, that I may send my servant, Oliver Cowdery, whithersoever I will.
verse 6 When Joseph traveled, if possible, Emma was to accompany him and function as his scribe—secretary, clerk, recorder. Emma was a literate and intelligent woman who had already served as scribe for portions of the book of Mormon translation. The reference here is to her later service as a temporary scribe for the Joseph Smith Translation—Joseph’s revision of the Bible.
7 And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.
verse 7 In March 1842, in Nauvoo, Emma will be “ordained” or set apart as the first president of the Relief Society by Elder John Taylor.
We have subsequently developed a distinction between being “ordained” and being “set apart.” Men are ordained to offices in the priesthood and set apart to preside over stakes, wards, branches, missions, and auxiliary organizations. The sisters are set apart—not ordained—as presidents of auxiliary organizations and to other offices in those organizations. In this verse the word “ordained” is used in a general, generic sense to mean set apart.
“and to exhort the church”Is this calling of Emma’s to “exhort the church” consistent with the apostle Paul’s statement that women are not to “speak” in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)? The Prophet Joseph provided us with a correct interpretation of this statement of Paul’s in Joseph’s inspired revision of the Bible. Joseph changed this verse to say that women are not to “rule” in the Church. The implication is that women are to be directed in the Church by the priesthood. This principle was stated by the Prophet Joseph to the members of the first Relief Society:
You will receive instructions through the order of the priesthood which God has established, through the medium of those appointed to lead, guide and direct the affairs of the Church in this last dispensation; and I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy, who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads (HC, 4:607).
8 For he shall lay his hands upon thee, and thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost, and thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much.
verse 8 At the time of this revelation, Emma had been baptized but not confirmed. She will be confirmed by her husband at a small, informal sacrament meeting held at the Smith home in Harmony in early August.
9 And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church; for unto them is his calling, that all things might be revealed unto them, whatsoever I will, according to their faith.
verse 9 “thou needest not fear”Apparently Emma had been concerned about how Joseph could support a family by farming if he spent his full time in building the Church. The answer was that Joseph would support her, but not by farming. The support would rather come from the Church for which he labored (see D&C 24:3). The pronouns “them” and “their” in this verse refer to the saints—the members of the Church.
In the earliest printings of this revelation, the phrase “support thee in the Church” was rendered “support thee from the Church.” Here then was further evidence that Joseph and Emma were to receive their subsistence from the members of the Church and not be engaged in temporal labors themselves.
10 And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.
verse 10 This verse reminds me of a statement of Hugh Nibley’s. Referring to this mortal life, he said, “It isn’t the real life . . . this is not the real world” (Teachings of the Book of Mormon—Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988-90 [Provo: FARMS], 461). It would seem to me that the essence of spirituality is to live in this world and to succeed in it, but allow your overriding priority to be issues of the eternal life which follows this life.
11 And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.
12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
verse 12 “my soul delighteth in the song of the heart”Singing is an act of worship and of communion with God, and it delights him. Again, the pronoun “their” refers to the church members.
verses 11-12 Emma was a gifted musician with a particular talent for singing. With the help of William W. Phelps, Emma went to work, and a selection of hymns was made and finally published in February 1836. It contained ninety selections. In this collection were found many sectarian hymns and also a goodly number (thirty four) by Latter-day Saints, especially William W. Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, and Eliza R. Snow.
Among these were some of the “classic” LDS hymns including “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning,” “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” “Redeemer of Israel,” and “How Firm a foundation.” The book was small in size and included the words of the hymns, but not music. The second collection of hymns was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841 and contained 340 selections. A third edition was planned at Nauvoo, but never printed.
13 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.
verse 13 “cleave unto the covenants”For a brief discussion of the interesting word cleave, see the commentary for D&C 11:19. Here the Lord is admonishing Emma to keep, or adhere to, the covenants she had made.
14 Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
verse 14 Pride is inevitably self-serving, while the Lord would command us to seek for the welfare, spiritual and physical, of others and not concentrate on ourselves (Matthew 10:39).
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.
verse 15 “Keep my commandments continually”Here is an apt definition of enduring to the end (see the commentary for verse 1). The Lord is no respecter of persons. No one is given the greatest gift of all, the gift of eternal life, because of the good deeds of someone else. Ancestry, family name, church position, or the faithfulness of loved ones cannot guarantee eternal life. Eternal life can only be obtained by one who abides the covenants made personally by the Lord.
16 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all. Amen.
verse 16 “this is my voice unto all”This should be understood to mean the Lord’s counsel to Emma herein applies to all women in the Church.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught of women and their importance in the Lord’s plan:
We know so little, brothers and sisters, about the reasons for the division of duties between womanhood and manhood as well as between motherhood and priesthood. These were divinely determined in another time and another place. We are accustomed to focusing on the men of God because theirs is the priesthood and leadership line. But paralleling that authority line is a stream of righteous influence reflecting the remarkable women of God who have existed in all ages and dispensations, including our own. Greatness is not measured by coverage in column inches, either in newspapers or in the scriptures. The story of the women of God, therefore, is, for now, an untold drama within a drama. . . .
Just as certain men were foreordained from before the foundations of the world, so were certain women appointed to certain tasks. Divine design—not chance— brought Mary forward to be the mother of Jesus. The boy prophet, Joseph Smith, was blessed not only with a great father but also with a superb mother, Lucy Mack, who influenced a whole dispensation.
In our modern kingdom, it is no accident that women were, through the Relief Society, assigned compassionate service. So often the service of women seems instinctive, while that of some men seems more labored. It is precisely because the daughters of Zion are so uncommon that the adversary will not leave them alone. . . .
So often our sisters comfort others when their own needs are greater than those being comforted. That quality is like the generosity of Jesus on the cross. Empathy during agony is a portion of divinity!
When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling that what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.
No wonder the men of God support and sustain you sisters in your unique roles, for the act of deserting home in order to shape society is like thoughtlessly removing crucial fingers from an imperiled dike in order to teach people to swim. . . .
Finally, remember: When we return to our real home, it will be with the “mutual approbation” of those who reign in the “royal courts on high.” There we will find beauty such as mortal “eye hath not seen;” we will hear sounds of surpassing music which mortal “ear hath not heard.” Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a heavenly mother? (CR, April 1978, 13-15).
Emma Smith was at the Prophet’s side until his death at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. She married Lewis Bidamon in December 1847. She lived the remainder of her life in Nauvoo. She was 75 years old when she died in the mansion house on April 30, 1879.
- Michael J. Preece