Section 37: Commandment to Move to Ohio
When they traveled to Fayette in December 1830, Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge had hoped to convince Joseph that he ought to visit the newly converted saints in Kirtland. They got more than their wish when in December 1830 the Lord gave this revelation which commanded all the saints in New York to move to “the Ohio,” largely because of the persecution of the saints in New York. In those days, Ohio was not a state but only a territory referred to as “the Ohio,” the “Ohio Reserve,” or the “Western Reserve.”
Section 37 was given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon less than three weeks after Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge had arrived in Fayette from Kirtland.
By December 1830 the Church had grown to approximately two-hundred saints in the state of New York. As mentioned previously the Lamanite missionaries Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson, had baptized nearly 130 people in the Kirtland, Ohio, area in the two or three weeks they had spent there in October on their way to Missouri. While in the Kirtland area, the Lamanite missionaries had ordained several elders, but apparently they left no single individual to preside over the new saints. Lyman Wight (see the “Brief Historical Setting for December 1830” at the conclusion of section 32) had acted as default leader, especially since Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge had traveled to New York to see the prophet Joseph Smith and inquire concerning the Lord’s will for them. Also, John Whitmer had been sent by Joseph from Fayette to preside over the Church in Kirtland. In spite of the efforts of Lyman Wight and John Whitmer, there was still some spiritual confusion that developed among these new members before Joseph Smith eventually arrived in February.
By the last week of January 1831, the first of the saints were ready for departure from New York. Sidney Rigdon delivered a parting sermon from the courthouse steps in Waterloo to the general populace, warning them to flee the wrath to come. Joseph traveled with Emma in a sleigh provided by Joseph Knight, Jr., and they arrived in Kirtland February 1, 1831.
Through the winter and spring, the New York saints made their way to Kirtland in small parties. By June 1831 the bulk of the New York converts had moved, many of them having sold their property in New York at a loss, to join the saints in Kirtland.
1 Behold, I say unto you that it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio, and this because of the enemy and for your sakes.
verse 1 “it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio” Joseph is commanded to pause in his efforts to write his inspired revision of the Bible.
The Lord gives two reasons for this commandment to move:
- “because of the enemy” The opposition to the Church in New York had reached the point where at least some of their enemies had actually conspired to kill the saints. The saints were clearly in significant danger (D&C 38:13, 28-29, 31). Hence, it would seem that the move to the Ohio was at least in part to protect the saints.
- “for your sakes” Apparently the Lord had something special in mind for the saints once they arrived in Kirtland. We will learn more of what the Lord had in mind in later sections.
2 And again, I say unto you that ye shall not go until ye have preached my gospel in those parts, and have strengthened up the church whithersoever it is found, and more especially in Colesville; for, behold, they pray unto me in much faith.
verse 2 “my gospel in those parts” They were to preach in New York one last time and strengthen the branches there, particularly Colesville, where the members had been faithfully praying for help and where the persecution of the saints and the schemes against them were the most severe.
3 And again, a commandment I give unto the church, that it is expedient in me that they should assemble together at the Ohio, against the time that my servant Oliver Cowdery shall return unto them.
verse 3 “a commandment I give unto the church” The Lord commands the saints to move to the Ohio. This was, in a way, the first gathering of the saints in this dispensation. Some of the New York saints looked on this exodus as a repetition of those of Lehi or Moses.
“against the time that my servant Oliver Cowdery shall return unto them” The New York saints are instructed to move to Kirtland in anticipation of Oliver’s return there. Oliver Cowdery was still the second elder of the Church and was a more important figure in its organization at this time than we sometimes acknowledge. The Church was genuinely looking forward to his return. Oliver was at this time in or near Jackson County, Missouri, on his Lamanite mission.
This particular phrase has reference to the fact that when Oliver returned to them from his mission to the Lamanites, he would have more information to give them regarding the location of the temple site in Zion. In other words, another reason for moving to the Ohio is to take the first step in gathering in the New Jerusalem.
Oliver did not arrive in Kirtland, however, until August 27, 1831, more than ten months after he left Fayette for Missouri, and about eight months after this revelation was received. Oliver, obedient to the Lord’s command, did not leave Missouri until Joseph went there in the summer of 1831 (see D&C 28:8-15) and, at the instruction of the Lord, personally accompanied Oliver back to Kirtland (see D&C 58:58).
4 Behold, here is wisdom, and let every man choose for himself until I come. Even so. Amen.
verse 4 “let every man choose for himself” Again, a reminder of the absolute sanctity of the principle of agency for every individual. The Lord will not, and indeed cannot, abrogate this principle.
Brief Historical Setting
Before the saints left New York, Joseph received three more revelations. In the first, the Lord explained to the saints other reasons why they were to leave New York [D&C 38 -Reasons for the Removal of Church to Ohio]. The other two were given to James Covill, a former Baptist minister who was converted and baptized into the Church of Christ but left the Church shortly thereafter [D&C 39 -Revelation to James Covill] [D&C 40 -Judge Not]. Section 41 would be received in Kirtland.
- Michael J. Preece