Section 97: Zion
This revelation was received August 2, 1833, and the material therein concerns the saints in Zion (Independence).
At the time this revelation was received, the saints had been in Zion for about two years, but they were experiencing severe persecution. On July 20, less than two weeks before this revelation was received, a mob of three hundred to five hundred Missourians destroyed the printing press of W. W. Phelps, together with most copies of the 1833 Book of Commandments which was then being printed. They then took Bishop Edward Partridge into the public square. There they stripped him and covered him with tar and feathers. Some copies of the printed text of the Book of Commandments were rescued by two brave teenage sisters (Backman and Cowan, Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants, 3). The mob also demolished the brick home of W. W. Phelps, in which the press was located. They then ransacked the Gilbert and Whitney store. On July 23 (the very same day the cornerstones were laid for the Kirtland Temple), the church leaders were forced to sign an agreement to leave Jackson County by January 1, 1834. The Missourians had had enough of the Mormons, and they meant business. They persecuted the saints without mercy. Despite attempts at legal redress, severe persecution continued, and the majority of the saints were driven from their homes to take refuge in Clay, Ray, Van Buren, Lafayette, and other counties by November of 1833.
Why did the Missourians persecute the Mormons with such violence? What exactly lay behind their vicious animosity? Historians have usually listed several causes:
- interference with Negroes. Missouri was a southern state, and Black slaves were a part of its economy. The Missourians may have resented the northern settlers for what they may have perceived as their abolitionist or anti-slavery views. Perhaps one of the catalysts for the mob action in Missouri had been an article in the July issue of The Evening and the Morning Star entitled “Free People of Color,” which was distorted by non-Mormons who claimed falsely that the saints were “tampering with [their] slaves.” When the saints in Missouri realized what the reaction to the article had been, they immediately published an “extra” edition of the Star, dated July 16 to set the record straight.
- Collusion with the Indians.
- The perceived threat of armed aggression by the Mormons.
- Features of the Mormons’ religious beliefs and social customs that were perceived as offensive by the Missourians.
- The Mormon’s growing political power.
Richard L. Bushman has suggested these latter two reasons as most fundamental and central in causing anger among the Missourians. (“Mormon Persecutions in Missouri, 1833,” BYU Studies 3:1).
There is good evidence to suggest that the Mormons did not tamper with slaves as they realized full well the feelings held by the Missourians. The Missouri mobsters, however, commonly charged them with doing so, probably in an effort to excite public sentiment against them (Ibid.).
The issue of collusion with the Indians was always peripheral and of little importance. Also, no one seems to have taken seriously the mobsters’ charges of a planned armed aggression. For one thing, the revelations specifically warned against the shedding of blood in order to establish Zion (D&C 63:29-31). Moreover, if the saints had taken up arms against the mobsters, all of the military units in the state would have mobilized in Jackson County’s defense.
The Mormons were regarded as deluded religious fanatics who claimed to converse with God, heal the sick, and perform other miracles. In addition, they were socially impenetrable and could not be assimilated into non-member Missouri society. These factors combined to produce mistrust among the Gentiles.
Perhaps most important among all other factors was the fear among Jackson County gentiles that the Mormons would soon dominate their society and government. It was perceived that they wanted to take over the entire county. Brother Bushman wrote:
There was real substance in the settlers’ fears of Mormon domination. The Latter-day Saints themselves believed Mormon and gentile societies were incompatible. The revelations to Joseph Smith identified Jackson as Zion, and Zion was to be the abode of the righteous only. If the gentiles did not leave, the saints believed, the Lord would destroy them ("Mormon Persecution in Missouri, 1833," BYU Studies 3 (1960): 11-20).
The Mormons believed that God had given them this land for an inheritance, and sooner or later they would take it over. By 1833, the Mormon population of Jackson County was 1200, one third of the county’s population. And the end was not in sight. The Mormon population was growing steadily. Within a few years, it appeared that they would control schools, government, and the courts. Apparently it was the very real prospect of Mormon political supremacy which so frightened the citizens of Missouri. The prospect of being dominated by these “religious eccentrics and fanatics” was simply too much for the Jackson County settlers. It is interesting to note that by the time section 97 was received, there were little more than one hundred people remaining in Kirtland.
These same factors that excited public sentiment against the Mormons in Jackson County will eventually result in fear, hatred, and violent persecution of the church in the areas of Far West and, later on, in Nauvoo, Illinois.
At the time Joseph received section 97, he certainly knew that all was not well in Zion, but he was not aware of these acute, extreme difficulties. Keep in mind that the horse was the fastest means of communication at that time, and that the nearly one-thousand mile distance between Jackson County and Kirtland was more than a two-week journey. Oliver Cowdery was on his way by horse from Independence to inform Joseph of the latest difficulties at the time this revelation was received. He had left Independence for Kirtland on the 25th or 26th of July, 1833 (he had signed the agreement with the mob on July 23 and left Missouri two or three days thereafter). Oliver Cowdery arrived in Kirtland sometime in mid-August. By August 2, many of the Mormons had left Jackson County and had crossed the Missouri River to Clay County. They had no homes, no cabins, and only a few tents and wagons. They were literally gypsies out on the prairie of Clay County.
Yet the tone of section 97 is more that of a business-as-usual revelation. The Lord is giving counsel to the saints in Zion as if nothing had happened. It is obvious that Joseph did not know what was going on in Zion. Certainly the Lord knew. Why didn’t he inform Joseph? It would seem that often the Lord simply allows things to happen naturally. Joseph did not receive by revelation more than he had sought for in this case.
Even though Joseph didn’t know what had happened, perhaps the Lord gave some clues that serious trouble was brewing in Missouri. Note in verse 7, “The ax is laid at the root of the trees.” Also in verse 8, the Lord speaks of sacrifices that will be required of the saints in Zion.
Section 97 contains four descriptions of a Zion people:
- verse 8—People who “know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me.”
- verse 14—Those that are “perfected in the understanding of their ministry, in theory, in principle, and in doctrine, in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, the keys of which kingdom have been conferred upon you.”
- verse 18—Zion “shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.”
- verse 21— “for this is Zion—the pure in heart.”
D&C 97 Zion
D&C 97:21 For this is Zion—the pure in heart.
1 Verily I say unto you my friends, I speak unto you with my voice, even the voice of my Spirit, that I may show unto you my will concerning your brethren in the land of Zion, many of whom are truly humble and are seeking diligently to learn wisdom and to find truth.
verse 1 “I say unto you my friends” The salutation here is directed to Joseph Smith and the church leaders in Kirtland. Even though there were serious problems among the members in Missouri, church leaders in Kirtland were still the Lord’s “friends.”
“my will concerning . . . Zion” Section 97 contains instructions for the saints in Jackson County, but also important information on the nature and the future of Zion generally.
“many of whom are truly humble” It is easy to overestimate the internal problems of the Missouri saints. Since Zion is ultimately a people “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18), many of the saints in Missouri could be properly obedient, and yet they will be unable to establish Zion collectively because of the behavior or attitude of a relative few among them. In trying to establish Zion collectively, the behavior of the few does affect the success of the many, and a successful Zion can only have one heart and one mind.
Thus, while the unfaithfulness of one individual may not affect another in establishing Zion in the other’s self or in his family, such unfaithfulness does have a negative impact on the ward, the stake, and the Church collectively. However, the attitude of members toward the less faithful should not be one of force or militancy, but of love and patience. The Lord will prune his own vineyard in due time by bringing chastening trials upon it (see D&C 95:2). Individuals can then self-select for or against the kingdom as they endure these trials or leave the Church because of them.
2 Verily, verily I say unto you, blessed are such, for they shall obtain; for I, the Lord, show mercy unto all the meek, and upon all whomsoever I will, that I may be justified when I shall bring them unto judgment.
3 Behold, I say unto you, concerning the school in Zion, I, the Lord, am well pleased that there should be a school in Zion, and also with my servant Parley P. Pratt, for he abideth in me.
verse 3 “the school in Zion” Four days after Joseph received section 97, on August 6, which was still prior to the arrival of Oliver Cowdery in Kirtland, Joseph wrote a letter to the saints in Missouri. In the letter, he wrote, “Having received Brother Oliver’s letter of July 9th as well as one from the brethren composing the school, we now answer them both in one letter as relates to the school in Zion. According to your request, we inquired of the Lord and send this letter—the communication which we received from the Lord concerning the school in Zion. It was obtained August 2nd and reads thus [section 97 follows]” (Woodford, “Historical Development,” 2:1226; Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 200).
The school in Missouri was patterned after the School of the Prophets in Kirtland and was referred to as the School of the Elders, with Elder Parley P. Pratt called as teacher. It was intended to train the Missouri leadership in the principles of the gospel and also to provide them with an elementary secular education. Elder Pratt recorded his experiences with this school as follows:
In the latter part of summer and in the autumn, I devoted almost my entire time in ministering among the churches holding meetings, visiting the sick, comforting the afflicted, and giving counsel. A school of Elders was also organized, over which I was called to preside. This class, to the number of about sixty, met for instruction once a week. The place of meeting was in the open air, under some tall trees, in a retired place in the wilderness, where we prayed, preached, and prophesied, and exercised ourselves in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here great blessings were poured out, and many great and marvelous things were manifested and taught. The Lord gave me great wisdom, and enabled me to teach and edify the Elders, and comfort and encourage them in their preparations for the great work which lay before us. I was also much edified and strengthened. To attend this school I had to travel on foot, and sometimes with bare feet at that, about six miles. This I did once a week, besides visiting and preaching in five or six branches a week” (Autobiography, 93-94).
4 And inasmuch as he continueth to abide in me he shall continue to preside over the school in the land of Zion until I shall give unto him other commandments.
5 And I will bless him with a multiplicity of blessings, in expounding all scriptures and mysteries to the edification of the school, and of the church in Zion.
6 And to the residue of the school, I, the Lord, am willing to show mercy; nevertheless, there are those that must needs be chastened, and their works shall be made known.
verse 6 “the residue of the school” According to the 1828 edition of Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, the word residue meant “that which remains after a part is taken, separated, removed, or designated.” The word did not have the negative connotation that it often does in contemporary English. The Lord has stated his approval of Parley P. Pratt, and he is willing to show mercy to the other members of the School of the Elders in Missouri. However, it appears from the language here that some members of the school required punishment from the Lord for secret sins which he would also make public.
7 The ax is laid at the root of the trees; and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire. I, the Lord, have spoken it.
verse 7 “The ax is laid at the root of the trees” This phrase corresponds most closely with the language of Alma (Alma 5:52) but also closely parallels Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9. In the Book of Mormon, this warning is given to the people of Alma who had great need to repent of their sins and had before them the great Lamanite wars. In the New Testament, it was delivered to the apostate and wicked Pharisee and Saducee Jews who would soon be destroyed by their failed revolt against Rome. The same warning is now addressed here specifically to the faltering saints in Missouri, for whom persecutions had already begun but for whom deliverance was still possible if they would only repent. We may conclude that the Lord reserves this particular warning for a people who have brought upon themselves, through their own unrighteousness, devastatingly dangerous circumstances. There is still time to escape, but the need to repent is urgent.
Trees can’t move. They can’t run away or hide from the woodsman’s ax. Their only defense against being cut down for firewood lies in producing valuable fruit. Many of the Missouri saints had traveled there contrary to the instructions of the Prophet (see the commentary for D&C 58:44). Some were arrogant or otherwise foolish in their dealings with the original settlers of Jackson County, and too few were committed to living the law of consecration as they had been commanded. Those who produced no fruit would be cut down and burned.
8 Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me.
verse 8 “their hearts . . . are broken, and their spirits contrite” What does it really mean to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? It is notable that the Hebrew word for “contrite” in the Bible is dakka, meaning “bruised,” or “crushed.” The primary definition given for “contrite” in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary is “worn or bruised.” It would seem that we must come to a point of genuine empathetic suffering as we contemplate our Savior’s atoning sacrifice made selflessly and on our behalf. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob wished that all men might “view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world” (Jacob 1:8). The Lord himself urges us all to figuratively “Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet” (D&C 6:37). Surely, with the divine assistance from the Holy Ghost, all celestial-bound men must arrive at a point where they suffer, along with the Savior, not only for their own sins, but for the sins of mankind. Part of this is a genuine and profound empathy for and gratitude to the Savior in his atoning sacrifice. This “broken heart and contrite spirit” can only come by personal revelation in return for our obedience to the Lord’s commands. It is a gift of the Spirit which, once acquired, serves as a constant source of motivation for our continued obedience. See also the commentary for D&C 20:37 (compare Psalm 51:17).
“willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice” In ancient times, covenants were entered into by offering sacrifices. Even contracts or other agreements between individuals were sealed with a sacrifice. In fact, the Hebrew idiom for “make a covenant” is karat berit, literally “to cut a covenant,” referring to the animal that was customarily sacrificed and eaten in token of the covenant’s being made (see, for example, Genesis 331:44-55). According to the law of sacrifice, Abraham offered sacrifices when he covenanted with the Lord (see Genesis 15:9-18). According to the same law, Moses slaughtered oxen to seal the covenant at Sinai (see Exodus 24:3-8). The covenant of the gospel was sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, whose flesh and blood we are symbolically reminded of when partaking of the sacrament. Other covenants are also accompanied by sacrifices—of one kind or another, such as the Lord may require—and without sacrifice of some kind, there is no covenant.
Why this association between covenants and sacrifice? When we enter into covenants with the Lord, why has he always symbolically reminded us of the necessity of sacrifice? Surely animals were sacrificed anciently as a symbolic foretelling of the ultimate sacrifice of the Savior in Gethsemane. But what about today? The Savior’s sacrifice has taken place. Why the continued association between covenants and sacrifice as stated in this verse? We must truly possess the spirit of sacrifice as we strive to subdue our natural self and obey the gospel commands—keep our covenants. Just a reminder that sacrifice is giving up something wholesome and useful for a higher purpose. Sacrifice in keeping our covenants today is just as pertinent as it ever was anciently. See The Law and Spirit of Sacrifice in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, verse 17.
“they are accepted of me” The life offering and willingness to sacrifice of some of those in Zion is acceptable to the Lord, but collectively as a Zion people they are not yet acceptable.
9 For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit.
verse 9 “a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land” In the short term, the “goodly land” is Independence, Missouri. However, the Lord’s promise here to the faithful saints would be fulfilled in the intermediate future by settlement in the valleys of the mountains in the West and in the long term will be fulfilled by the establishment of Zion during the Millennium (see verse 18).
10 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you.
verse 10 “it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion” The chief sacrifice that the Lord required of the Missouri saints was that they should build a temple in Independence, just as the Kirtland saints were being required to build one in Ohio. This commandment cannot have been a complete surprise for the Missouri saints, for a temple site had been selected and consecrated two years earlier, yet no further action had been taken. They had received an explicit commandment to proceed, together with rough plans for their temple (a duplicate of the Kirtland Temple).
This was received in a letter dated June 25, 1833, well before section 97 was sent to them (HC, 1:362-363; Robison, First Mormon Temple, 9-16). However they took no action to begin construction. Section 97 makes it clear that the commandment to build this temple was as binding upon the Missouri saints as building the Kirtland Temple was on the Ohio saints (see D&C 95:3), yet still they took no action.
According to verses 18 and 25-26, had the Missouri saints kept the commandment to build a temple, Zion would have been established, never to be removed. Had the Missouri saints collectively been as committed to building a temple as the Ohio saints were, the Lord would have opened up the way for them to succeed. However, as Elder Parley P. Pratt, who taught the elders in Missouri, observed: “This revelation was not complied with by the leaders and Church in Missouri, as a whole; notwithstanding many were humble and faithful. Therefore, the threatened judgment was poured out to the uttermost, as the history of the five following years will show” (Autobiography, 96). The obligation of this commandment was formally removed from the saints as a practical impossibility in 1841 (see D&C 124:49-51), though it would have been possible in 1833 had they collectively proved more faithful.
And yet, it is possible to overemphasize the failings of the Missouri saints, as compared to the body of church members today. These were good people, but they expected a paradise of milk and honey, and the sacrifice of one’s personal expectations in order to build the house of God was as difficult, or even more difficult, then as it is now. According to Brother Parley P. Pratt: “They lived in peace and quiet; no lawsuits with each other or with the world; few or no debts were contracted; few promises broken; there were no thieves, robbers, or murderers; few or no idlers; all seemed to worship God with a ready heart” (Autobiography, 93).
11 Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people.
verse 11 “let it be built . . . by the tithing of my people” Usually, the term tithing is used in the scriptures to indicate a tenth part of one’s interest, or increase, annually (see D&C 119:4). However, in this verse, the word is used as it is in D&C 64:23 and 85:3 to mean freewill offerings generally. Certainly, more than a tenth part of the saints’ resources would have been necessary to construct a temple in Independence, even as more than a tenth was required in Kirtland. Besides the cost of land and materials, offerings of time and labor would also have been required under the financial aspects of the law of consecration which remained in effect in Missouri and the rest of the Church until 1840 (HC, 4:93; Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4:1481).
12 Behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may be a house built unto me for the salvation of Zion—
verse 12 “for the salvation of Zion” A temple might be likened to a doorway through which the full blessings of heaven are poured out upon the saints. If the saints want those special blessings, they must begin by constructing that portal—a temple. Salvation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom can only come by receiving the ordinances performed in temples (see D&C 131:1-4). Temporally, the very safety and protection sought by the Missouri saints would have been theirs if only they could have built a temple, for the Lord promised if they would do this, they would escape the coming chastening (verses 18, 25). Both temporal and spiritual powers come from the presence of a temple. As President Ezra Taft Benson observed at the dedication of the Jordan River Temple:
The saints have been commanded to stand in holy places, such as this temple, in order to avoid the tribulations which are to come in the latter days. . . .
The saints in this temple district will be better able to meet any temporal tribulation because of this temple. Faith will increase as a result of the divine power associated with the ordinances of heaven and the assurance of eternal associations.
I repeat what I said at the groundbreaking of this temple two years ago: This valley will be preserved, our families will be protected, and our children will be safe guarded as we live the gospel, visit the temple, and live close to the Lord” (Church News, August 22, 1981, 8).
13 For a place of thanksgiving for all saints, and for a place of instruction for all those who are called to the work of the ministry in all their several callings and offices;
verse 13 “For a place of thanksgiving” The temple is a place the saints can go and, if they are humble and repentant, put themselves and their loved ones ultimately beyond the powers of Satan. Through the atonement of Christ, whole families can be sealed together in the kingdom of God, and surely any place where we may receive such blessings is “a place of thanksgiving.”
“for a place of instruction” A full understanding of the Lord’s plan comes only with that panoramic view of history from the beginning, to the present, and until the end, that is communicated in the ordinances of the temple. The temple provides us with our own guide to time and space that teaches us who and where we are, what went before, and what comes hereafter. Those who are lost cannot be saved by others who are also lost, but only by those who have their spiritual bearings, who know where they are and how to get home. It is entirely understandable, then, that missionaries and others who are called to the ministry in the kingdom of God should first be instructed in the temple of God before they are sent out to show others the way to God.
14 That they may be perfected in the understanding of their ministry, in theory, in principle, and in doctrine, in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, the keys of which kingdom have been conferred upon you.
verse 14 “in theory, in principle, and in doctrine” The English word theory is derived from the Greek, theoreo, meaning “to see or perceive.” Taken in this sense, it does not refer to anything speculative or hypothetical, but to a knowledge of the relationships between individual principles, the sum total of which is doctrine. As Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary phrases it, theory is “an exposition of the general principles of any science,” or “the science distinguished from the art.” Note the parallel between this verse and D&C 88:78.
15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
verse 15 “do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it” The responsibility for maintaining the sanctity of the temple lies not upon the Lord, but upon the saints themselves. For this reason, it is necessary for the Church, through appointed leaders, to inquire into the life and habits of those wishing to attend the temple. By complying with this requirement, both those who seek recommends and those who grant them participated in a process designed to keep the temple holy, which is the obligation laid upon the saints. The personal desires of those who might want to attend the temple but who will not keep the covenants set forth in the temple cannot be allowed to prevail over the strict command of the Lord. Otherwise, “my glory shall [not] rest upon it,” and the very purposes of temple attendance will be lost to all. The equality of this system is that any member may repent and receive a recommend, but the decision not to repent is also a decision not to attend the temple.
16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
verse 16 “the pure in heart . . . shall see God” This is the same promise made by the Savior in the sixth Beatitude (see Matthew 5:8; 3 Nephi 12:8). Note that the promise here does not guarantee that the pure in heart will see God in the temple, but only that they shall see God (compare Moses 5:4, 10). It also makes no mention of the time line associated with this promise. Although is it possible for the righteous to see God during this mortal existence—the blessing of the Second Comforter—many of the righteous will not see him until after their mortal death.
17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.
verse 17 “I will not come into unholy temples” When the Savior came onto the grounds of the Jerusalem Temple, he drove out those who “made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-16)—those who defiled a place that should have been holy. Whether it is applied to our modern temples, or to that temple which is made up of all the members collectively (see Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Peter 2:5), or that temple which is each member individually (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17), the principle is the same. When the Savior comes in, that which is unholy must be cast out, for he will not inhabit the same tabernacle with uncleanness.
18 And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.
verse 18 “Zion . . . shall prosper . . . and become very great” The contemporary Church may sometimes underestimate the glorious future of Zion. During the Nauvoo period, the Prophet revealed to the Church in a general conference that “the whole of America is Zion itself from north to south, and is described by the Prophets, who declare that it is the Zion where the mountain of the Lord should be, and that it should be in the center of the land” (HC, 6:318-319). Brigham Young added later, “This American continent will be Zion; for it is so spoken of by the prophets. Jerusalem will be rebuilt and will be the place of gathering, and the tribe of Judah will gather there; but this continent of America is the land of Zion” (JD, 5:4; Ether 13:2-12). On another occasion, Joseph taught the saints that “the whole of North and South America is Zion,” and in the twentieth century, modern prophets have revealed that “every nation is the gathering place for its own people” (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 363; Harold B. Lee, Ensign, July 1973, 5; Graham W. Doxey, Ensign, April 1979, 65). Thus, while the Doctrine and Covenants might have directed the nineteenth century Church to Missouri as the center place of Zion (see D&C 57:1-3), when that holy place is finally established physically, neither the city nor the state will any longer suffice to contain the whole of it.
“and become very . . . terrible” In contemporary English, terrible has a certain negative connotation. However, Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary offers an alternate meaning for “terrible” that is likely intended here: “adapted to impress dread, terror or solemn awe and reverence.” The power and glory of the physical Zion, when it is established, will impress dread and terror upon the wicked and solemn awe and reverence upon the righteous.
19 And the nations of the earth shall honor her, and shall say: Surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there;
20 And he hath sworn by the power of his might to be her salvation and her high tower.
verse 20 “her high tower” In ancient times, a high tower was a defensive structure and was the most secure place in a city wall or in the city itself. For Zion the power of God will be her defense.
21 Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.
verse 21 “for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART” Zion is both a people and a place. The Church has now among its members many Zion people and many Zion families. There are doubtless even Zion wards and Zion stakes, for spiritual Zion is the pure in heart. Nevertheless, the physical Zion, which the Church will establish at some time in the future, is not simply “wherever the pure in heart may dwell,” for the formula Zion is the pure in heart describes the people themselves and not necessarily the place where they live. Physical Zion will be established only when a Zion people inhabit a Zion place, when the pure in heart live in a place that has been consecrated to the purposes of the Lord. Ultimately, that physical place will eventually take in all of the American continent and beyond (see Articles of Faith 1:10 and the commentary on verse 18). Eventually, Asia will be Zion for the Asian saints, Africa for the African saints, and so on, for every nation will be Zion for the saints who inhabit it. Surely, there will be administrative centers at all levels, but the time is long past when all the saints can be gathered into one country, let alone into one state or one tiny county.
For a more complete discussion of the meanings of the term Zion, see “Meanings of ‘Zion’” in Zion, volume 3 chapter 27 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
22 For behold, and lo, vengeance cometh speedily upon the ungodly as the whirlwind; and who shall escape it?
23 The Lord’s scourge shall pass over by night and by day, and the report thereof shall vex all people; yea, it shall not be stayed until the Lord come;
verse 23 “The Lord’s scourge shall pass over by night and by day” The language here is reminiscent of Isaiah 28:15, 18-19. That passage prophesied the invasion of Israel by the Assyrian army together with the destruction and chaos it would cause. Here it refers to the judgments that will come at the end of this dispensation as they are described in D&C 29:14-17; 45:26-33; 40-50; 87:5-8. Whether the Church suffers from such calamities with the rest of the world or is protected from them by the Lord—their “high tower” (see verse 20)—depends upon whether or not they can establish Zion. When the Jackson County saints failed in their attempt to establish Zion, an “overflowing scourge” (D&C 45:31) fell upon them.
“it shall not be stayed until the Lord come” The “overflowing scourge” (D&C 45:31) of the last days will reduce the world, with the exception of Zion, to a state of anarchy and chaos that will continue until the second coming of Christ (see D&C 87:68). As the end approaches, all the peoples of the earth will have to choose one kingdom or the other: the risks and plagues of Babylon, or the joys and the safety of Zion.
24 For the indignation of the Lord is kindled against their abominations and all their wicked works.
25 Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her.
26 But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.
verses 25-26 “Zion shall escape if . . .” Zion is a pure people (see verse 21) dwelling in a consecrated land (see D&C 57:2-3), who are of one heart and one mind with one another and with their God, dwelling in righteousness with no rich or poor among them (see Moses 7:18). The promise of the Lord is that a truly Zion people will dwell in safety forever (see Moses 7:20), but only if they are truly Zion and thus keep his commandments. In the present text, the immediate commandment requiring the obedience of the Independence saints if they are to establish Zion is that they build a temple (see verses 10-12).
There is no indication that any steps were ever taken in Independence to begin construction of a temple in the two years following the dedication of the temple site. Failing collectively to keep the Lord’s commandment, those saints were completely driven out of Jackson County by the following November, and over the next five years all the woes listed in verse 26 also fell upon them.
27 Nevertheless, let it be read this once to her ears, that I, the Lord, have accepted of her offering; and if she sin no more none of these things shall come upon her;
verse 27 One wonders if there might still have been hope to continue on in Jackson County, by divine intervention, if the saints had built a temple. How would our church history have been different had the Missouri saints been completely steadfast and righteous?
28 And I will bless her with blessings, and multiply a multiplicity of blessings upon her, and upon her generations forever and ever, saith the Lord your God. Amen.
When this revelation was sent to Zion, a copy of section 94 was also included with a note that the same two buildings to be built in Kirtland (the church office building and the building to house the printing press) should also be built there in Zion along with the temple.
Brief Historical Setting
As soon as Oliver arrived with the news of the disastrous happenings in Independence, Joseph received another revelation in which the Lord spoke calmly and sensibly to the angry and frightened saints [D&C 98 -Laws of Retribution, War, and Forgiveness]. This revelation and other messages of comfort were carried back to the Missouri saints.
Even though the Missourians, by signed contract, had agreed to allow the saints to remain in Jackson County until January 1, 1834, the spirit of persecution knew no such patience. Houses were burned, men were beaten, and many saints were left homeless and were forced to flee across the Missouri River and out of Jackson County.
- Michael J. Preece