Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 64: Forgiveness By Michael J. Preece

Section 64: Forgiveness

September 1831 in Kirtland was almost chaotically busy. Joseph Smith and the Kirtland saints were deeply involved in raising funds for the land purchases in Zion through the subscription of members and through the consecration and sale of some Kirtland properties. Because of the imminent sale of the Isaac Morley farm, the large number of saints living there, including the Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon families, had to find new housing. Many of these members had been directed to emigrate to Zion before winter, and preparations for their long journey on such short notice consumed both time and resources.

Joseph needed a home for his family and also he needed a quieter place in which to work, especially to work on his inspired revision of the Bible. See the supplemental article, Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision of the Bible. Thus, on September 12, 1831, the Prophet with his wife Emma and their four-month old adopted twins moved to the home of John and Elsa Johnson in the township of Hiram, Portage County, Ohio, about thirty miles southeast of Kirtland. The Smiths occupied a single room in the two-story Johnson farmhouse. The Johnsons were friends of Sidney Rigdon and had been converted to the Church when the Prophet healed Elsa of a chronic and painful joint disease. Sidney and Phoebe Rigdon with their six children moved with him, and they lived in a log cabin near the Johnson home on the 304 acre farm.

For six and a half months—September 12, 1831 through March 1832—Hiram would serve as temporary headquarters of the Church. While Joseph was in Hiram, many saints traveled there to meet with him and seek his counsel. While there, he did much work on his inspired revision of the King James Bible. Also in Hiram several important conferences were held, and sixteen revelations were received (sections 1, 65, 67, 68, 69, 71, 73, 74, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 99, and 133) including the memorable vision recorded in section 76.

One reason the Prophet moved so far from Kirtland in September 1831 was to avoid the persecution beginning there. The work of producing the JST had begun by commandment in 1830, shortly after the Church was organized, and had been interrupted by the move from New York to Ohio in early 1831 and by the mission to Missouri in the summer of that year. Joseph was determined to continue the work of translation as he had been commanded. But to do so he would have to move far from the atmosphere of growing persecution in Kirtland.

We will learn that there in Hiram a mob, excited by the agitation of Ezra Booth, will try to take the lives of Joseph and Sidney. The Prophet and Sidney will flee from Hiram in March 1832 to return to Kirtland. This six-month period in Hiram was a most significant era in the history of the Church.

The day before Joseph moved to Hiram, September 11, 1831, he received section 64. Among other things, section 64 contains an important commandment upon which many of us may stumble—the commandment to forgive one another.

In section 57 a few brethren had been called to settle their affairs in Kirtland and move to Missouri. These included Edward Partridge, Sidney Gilbert, and W. W. Phelps. Evidently the problems that had arisen on the Missouri River (see background materials for section 61) had involved these brethren. Some unpleasant feelings and ill will still existed among them. There needed to be a full reconciliation if they were to successfully lay the foundations for Zion. Thus, section 64 was given primarily for their benefit. They needed to forgive one another and to forgive Joseph.

Scripture Mastery

D&C 64 Forgiveness

D&C 64:9-11 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

D&C 64:23 He that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.

D&C 64:32-34 Be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.

1 Behold, thus saith the Lord your God unto you, O ye elders of my church, hearken ye and hear, and receive my will concerning you.

2 For verily I say unto you, I will that ye should overcome the world; wherefore I will have compassion upon you.

verse 2 “I will that ye should overcome the world” The ultimate challenge for each of us mortals here on earth is to make strides in overcoming our natural or natural man tendencies and, instead of succumbing to those natural inclinations, choosing to obey the Lord’s commands. Our natural self is inclined to respond only to earthly influences. Each of the Lord’s commandments can be obeyed only if we are successful in denying (or “overcoming”) part of our natural self. This deliberate overcoming of our natural self is the essence of the characteristic of deliberate faith. For a discussion of this vital topic see Our “Natural Self” and “Spiritual Self” in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 5 and The Gospel and the Two Natures of Man in the same volume, chapter 6. See also chapters 9, 10, and 11 in the same volume, Revealed Faith, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, and Other Notes on Faith.

3 There are those among you who have sinned; but verily I say, for this once, for mine own glory, and for the salvation of souls, I have forgiven you your sins.

verse 3 “for mine own glory” For reasons that are not entirely clear, the spiritual progress—and particularly the exaltation of man—adds to the glory of both the Father and the Son (Moses 1:39; D&C 45:4).

“I have forgiven you your sins” This is a rather remarkable pronouncement by the Lord. When an individual is diligently striving to overcome himself and obey the commandments, it is the Lord’s wont to frequently forgive, or justify, that individual as he also grants him the incremental gifts of the Spirit or increments of the attributes of Christ that he gives partially as a reward for the individual’s obedience. But in this instance, the Lord preemptively forgives those elders who are guilty of the sin of failing to forgive others even before they have begun to repent and before the Lord reiterates the commandment to forgive (see verses 9-11). This is indeed a compassionate and merciful gesture which the Lord makes, apparently in order to “get on with” the building of the nascent kingdom of God on earth and to set an example of unconditional forgiveness which he expects of each of us.

4 I will be merciful unto you, for I have given unto you the kingdom.

verse 4 “I have given unto you the kingdom” Note that this is not the promise of a future gift but the assurance of a present possession. When we come to Christ and enter into the covenant of the gospel through the covenant of baptism, we then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and so become, conditionally, members of the kingdom of God. The one condition is that we endure. To endure does not mean to cling desperately to the progress already made, but rather to continue always to progress. In this life, as long as we actively keep our gospel covenants, repent of our sins, and continuously strive to improve the quality and completeness of our obedience, we continue to possess the kingdom of God.

5 And the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom shall not be taken from my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., through the means I have appointed, while he liveth, inasmuch as he obeyeth mine ordinances.

verse 5 “the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom” See D&C 28:7; 35:18. These keys include the right to receive revelation concerning things of the kingdom previously unknown in this dispensation. The Lord informed the Church that while Joseph lived, he, and he alone—not Oliver, not Sidney—would hold these keys on the single condition that he obey the Lord’s ordinances. In March 1833, the Lord will further declar that Joseph Smith will hold these keys of the kingdom not only during his mortal life, but in eternity as well (D&C 90:3).

“through the means I have appointed, while he liveth” In D&C 28:7 the Lord had told Oliver Cowdery that Joseph would hold the keys of the mysteries “until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.” In D&C 35:18 the Lord told Sidney Rigdon that if Joseph did not “abide in me . . . another will I plant in his stead.” D&C 43:4 also admits the possibility that Joseph could lose his place to another appointed in his stead. By September 1831, some of the saints in Kirtland had become antagonistic toward the Prophet (see D&C 64:6), and they could have used the above passages to suggest it was time for another to take Joseph’s place. The Lord here makes it very clear, however, that while Joseph was obedient he would continue to hold the keys as long as he lived, and this was made explicit eighteen months later in D&C 90:3. In this latter verse the Lord will inform the Church that Joseph Smith will hold the keys in this world and in the world to come. The same principle holds true today. Barring unfaithfulness, those who hold the keys of the kingdom—the president of the Church individually and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles collectively—hold them for this life and for the life to come.

6 There are those who have sought occasion against him without cause;

7 Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.

verse 7 “he has sinned” The Lord acknowledges that Joseph was not guiltless in the dispute that had occurred. Nor were the other brethren without blame, and they all needed to humble themselves and be forgiving.

“I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness” This statement may be at first misleading. The Lord delights in forgiving the sins of those mortals who realize they have done wrong and feel appropriate remorse; admit to themselves that they have sinned (D&C 58:42-43); make recompense to those whom they may have injured; commit themselves to change and obey the commandments; and then strive with their might to overcome their natural man tendencies and if fact obey. Perhaps the most essential step, the sine qua non (Latin for “without which there is none”), of having one’s sins forgiven by the Lord is striving diligently to obey the commandments. This essential step is not mentioned in this phrase but should be understood to be implied.

“who have not sinned unto death” The premeditated shedding of innocent blood is the “sin unto death” (1 John 5:16-17) meaning a sin for which there is “no forgiveness” (D&C 42:79). Is this true? Is the shedding of innocent blood the same as “the unpardonable sin”? Can a man not repent and be cleansed of this sin?

The ultimate and “unpardonable sin” is to shed the only completely innocent blood, the blood of Jesus Christ. Once an individual has been converted to the divinity of Jesus Christ by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and has come to know God and have an absolute witness, then that individual has a most serious and binding obligation. If he should ever turn altogether against the Church and come out in open rebellion against it, then he is guilty of the unpardonable sin. It as though he “crucifies [Christ]” afresh or “assent[s] unto [his] death” (D&C 76:35; 132:27). Such an individual will be resurrected but will not inherit a kingdom of glory. Rather he will spend eternity with Satan and his angels.

The unjustified shedding of human life is not the “unpardonable” sin. Rather, it is the “unforgivable sin,” second only to the unpardonable sin in its gravity. A murderer may repent and be cleansed in the post-mortal life, and he may be admitted to a kingdom of glory, the telestial kingdom. He cannot, however be forgiven to the point of being worthy for the celestial kingdom. He may become a “servant of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come” (D&C 76:112). See additional discussion of the most egregious sins in Three Most Abominable Sins in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 18.

8 My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.

verse 8 “My disciples, in days of old” This phrase likely refers to Jesus’s disciples in New Testament times. We will learn that the Lord is not hesitant to let us know that the disciples of that dispensation had trouble getting along with each other, just as the disciples of this dispensation sometimes do (see, for example, Mark 9:33-34; 10:41-42; Acts 15:24, 39; 2 Corinthians 11:12-13; Galatians 2:11; 3 John 1:9-10).

“sought occasion against one another” As used here, an occasion means an opportunity for taking action (see Daniel 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:12). Thus, the ancient disciples, like those in Joseph’s day and in ours, sometimes sinned by looking for opportunities to accuse, confront, oppose, or antagonize one another.

“forgave not one another in their hearts” That is, they still held grudges, even though outwardly they may have appeared to have forgiven one another.

President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

The Lord declared that when he was in his ministry his disciples sought occasion against one another and failed at times to forgive in their hearts. It was this condition which prompted Peter to ask the Lord how many times he should forgive his brother, “till seven times?” The Lord answered him, “I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). As the disciples of old brought upon themselves affliction and chastening, so we, when we do not have in our hearts the spirit of forgiveness, bring upon ourselves affliction and chastening from the Lord (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:235).

9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

verse 9 “he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord” Excellent background and commentary for this phrase is found in the parable of the unmerciful servant (see Matthew 18:21-35).

“there remaineth in him the greater sin” The Lord extends forgiveness to each and everyone of us our trespasses against him and his commandments when we repent of our sins. He therefore expects each of us to forgive those who have offended us. If we persist in holding a grudge against another individual who offends us, but who has confessed and repented of any wrong doing in the affair, our continuing to hold a grudge will not keep the other from receiving God’s forgiveness, but it will render us unfit for that forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15). Hence, failure to forgive an offense against us is a greater sin than that of the offender who offended us.

10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

verse 10 We may refuse to forgive, but only at the peril of our own souls, for we are forgiven as we forgive. Matthew 6:12 reads, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:14-15 reads, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” It is reported that Brigham Young once said that he who takes offense when no offense was intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense was intended is usually a fool. He then described two courses of action to follow when one is bitten by a rattlesnake. One may, in anger, fear, or vengefulness, pursue the creature and kill it. Or he may make full haste to get the venom out of his system. If we pursue the latter course, we will likely survive, but if we attempt to follow the former, we may not be around long enough to finish it.

Is the forgiveness required of us here totally unconditional? Are we allowed to resist injustice in this world? Does the Lord’s command to forgive, for example, require you drop criminal or civil charges against an employee who has embezzled from you? Does it require you to rehire him or her? Should the priesthood leader of an errant church member, in the spirit of unconditional forgiveness, refuse to hold a disciplinary council? Our requirement to forgive is not totally unconditional. There are three qualifying principles:

  1. The obligation for the trespasser to repent. The Lord taught: “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). The trespassing individual must repent of his wrong doing. Otherwise, you are entitled to protect yourself against his further trespassing. But what about the individual who does not repent? How many times must we forgive him? The answer “seventy times seven” (a hyperbolic quantity, meaning indefinitely) is for those who sin against us but repent. For those who sin against us and refuse to repent, the first three times we are still obligated to forgive, but the fourth time the testimonies against the sinner are to be brought before the Lord. If sincere repentance and restitution ensue, forgiveness is required; but if there is not repentance, the sinner is given over to the judgments of God (see D&C 98:39-48—the law of forgiveness).

  2. The right of self defense. The principle of forgiveness does not deprive us of the right to act in our own defense. We are not allowed to hate the aggressor or to hold a grudge against him, but we are not required to suffer preventable injury at his hands either, even on a first offense. The right of self-defense also justifies severing any contact with someone who constitutes a physical, moral, mental, emotional, financial, or spiritual hazard for us.

  3. The right to seek for justice. To forgive an individual who has embezzled or stolen money from you requires that you rid yourself of all bitterness, hatred, or desire for revenge. But forgiveness does not require that all relations and feelings be restored to what they once were between the forgiver and the forgiven. One need not drop criminal or civil charges against someone who has stolen from you. A priesthood leader should not refuse to hold an appropriate disciplinary council (see verses 12-14). It is possible to forgive those who have offended you while at the same time preferring not to deal with the individual again. Forgiveness is about the elimination of negative feelings but not always about the restoration of former relationships and privileges.

11 And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

verse 11 “let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds” In saying this we decline to judge or to condemn others (see Matthew 7:1). We decline to take things personally but leave it to God to reward or condemn our adversaries. In adopting this attitude in our disagreements with others, we avoid anger, bitterness, hatred, malice, and all the other emotional poisons so dangerous to our own hearts. Suspending judgment about the motives or guilt of those with whom we disagree, however, is not the same as letting them have their way. Once again, this principle does not require us to put ourselves or our stewardship at risk but only to deal with our opposition non-judgmentally.

The reader may be surprised to learn what it really means to forgive another individual. The mechanics of this process are not exactly intuitive. It is not sufficient to say to the supposed offender, “I forgive you.” Please see an important discussion of the process of forgiveness in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 6, Forgiveness.

12 And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation.

13 And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver—

verses 12-13 “do with him as the scripture saith . . . that God may be glorified” It is easy to confuse the issues of forgiveness and justice and wrongly conclude that one excludes the other. Yet the same God who commanded the saints to forgive one another and all men (verses 9-10) also commanded church leaders to discipline unrepentant sinners (verse 12). Church leaders are to forgive first in their own hearts, and then where appropriate to discipline, and finally, when discipline is complete, to forgive in the name of the Church. There can be no grudge, no desire for revenge, no hatred, no bitterness, and no malice in church disciplinary proceedings, and, as individuals, church leaders are required to forgive those who are disciplined.

Nevertheless, reverence for God, the lawgiver, demands that his law be obeyed. Church leaders are expected, as individuals, to forgive sinners. But no local church leader can, as an individual, extend to an unrepentant sinner the forgiveness of the Church or of God. By commandment, the forgiveness of the Church is obtained through the procedures of the Church—through repentance, through confession, and, for serious sins, through its disciplinary councils.

14 Verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things.

verse 14 “for this cause ye shall do these things” The Lord commands that his counsel in verse 13 be followed, and for what cause? That “God may be glorified” (see verse 13).

15 Behold, I, the Lord, was angry with him who was my servant Ezra Booth, and also my servant Isaac Morley, for they kept not the law, neither the commandment;

verse 15 “Ezra Booth, and also my servant Isaac Morley” Ezra Booth and Isaac Morley had been missionary companions on the trip to Missouri (see D&C 52:23). Ezra in particular did not do well on that trip, and after returning to Kirtland on September 1, he began criticizing the Missouri mission and the leadership of the Church, especially Joseph Smith. He was disfellowshipped on September 6, which is probably why the Lord refers to him in this verse in the past tense as “him who was my servant.” Ezra formally rejected the Church on September 12, the day after this revelation was received.

Isaac Morley had at first refused to consecrate his Kirtland farm to the Lord when commanded to do so, but he soon repented and turned his property over to the Church before going to Missouri as Ezra Booth’s companion. Isaac may have been affected somewhat by his companion’s attitudes or temporarily shared some of his views (see verse 16), but he stayed in Missouri to assist Bishop Partridge, and the Lord notes here that whatever his sins may once have been, he has at this time already been forgiven (see verse 16).

16 They sought evil in their hearts, and I, the Lord, withheld my Spirit. They condemned for evil that thing in which there was no evil; nevertheless I have forgiven my servant Isaac Morley.

17 And also my servant Edward Partridge, behold, he hath sinned, and Satan seeketh to destroy his soul; but when these things are made known unto them, and they repent of the evil, they shall be forgiven.

verse 17 Edward Partridge and Isaac Morley were still in Missouri when section 64 was received (see D&C 58:24), and they probably did not learn of its contents for weeks. Thus the Lord said of them, “When these things are made known unto them, and they repent of the evil, they shall be forgiven.” The specific sins referred to here are not known, but the Lord had warned Edward scarcely a month before to repent of his “unbelief and blindness of heart” or he would fall (D&C 58:15).

18 And now, verily I say that it is expedient in me that my servant Sidney Gilbert, after a few weeks, shall return upon his business, and to his agency in the land of Zion;

verse 18 Sidney Gilbert is commanded to return to Missouri and resume his calling as a church agent. He had established a mercantile store there which served also as the bishop’s storehouse. He will take sections 63 and 64 with him to Zion, along with other news, information, and instructions (see verse 19).

19 And that which he hath seen and heard may be made known unto my disciples, that they perish not. And for this cause have I spoken these things.

20 And again, I say unto you, that my servant Isaac Morley may not be tempted above that which he is able to bear, and counsel wrongfully to your hurt, I gave commandment that his farm should be sold.

verse 20 “I gave commandment that his farm should be sold” This commandment was given in D&C 63:38-39. The Morley farm was already in the hands of the Church when Isaac left for Missouri, and it was being managed by Titus Billings, who received the commandment to sell it. This was partially for the good of Brother Morley, who had some difficulty parting with it, as well as to finance the purchase of more land in Zion (see D&C 63:40). The Morley farm will formally be sold a month later on October 12.

This was the same farm on which “the Morley family” had been living with its system of “common stock” before the missionaries to the Lamanites arrived in Kirtland. Most of the “family” joined the Church and continued living on the farm after their conversion.

21 I will not that my servant Frederick G. Williams should sell his farm, for I, the Lord, will to retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years, in the which I will not overthrow the wicked, that thereby I may save some.

verse 21 “I will not that my servant Frederick G. Williams should sell his farm” Brother Williams earlier had informally consecrated his farm to the Church, and several members were then living on it, but he still held legal title to it. In May 1834 he deeded this farm to the Church without remuneration. Apparently the Lord wanted the Church to retain a foothold in Kirtland for five more years in part because of his desire to see the saints have the blessings of the temple. This revelation was received September 11, 1831. Five years later, the Kirtland Temple had been dedicated, and the Church was beginning to experience a devastating apostasy.

“in the which I will not overthrow the wicked” The Lord reassures the saints that the prophesied destructions of the end of the world and the destruction of all the wicked elements of the earth will not occur during the next five years. He thus calmed the fears of some of the Kirtland saints who wanted to flee to Zion for safety but were told to remain in Ohio.

22 And after that day, I, the Lord, will not hold any guilty that shall go with an open heart up to the land of Zion; for I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.

verse 22 “after that day, I, the Lord, will not hold any guilty that shall go” The Ohio saints had been commanded to remain in Ohio until called by the Prophet to emigrate to Zion (see D&C 58:56; 63:24, 41). Many disobeyed this commandment and thereby contributed to the failure to establish Zion at that time. Here the Lord declares that after the five years are up, all the Ohio saints can then move to Zion without violating his will, provided they are worthy of Zion.

“with an open heart . . . for I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men” This probably refers to the willingness of the saints to share one another’s burdens by living the law of consecration.

23 Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.

verse 23 “now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man” See the commentary for D&C 45:6. The “day of the Lord” is the moment of his second coming.

“for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming” We are commanded to pay tithing. This is the first mention of tithing in the Doctrine and Covenants. Note why some have, with tongue in cheek, referred to tithing as “the best fire insurance around.” The burning of the last day, at the time of the Savior’s second coming, will consume only the wicked—those who abide a telestial law (see D&C 76:98, 104-5). Those who are faithful tithe payers are living at least a terrestrial law, and if term “tithing” is understood to mean freely giving of one’s financial resources to the Lord, as it was understood in 1831, then full tithe payers are living the celestial law as well. And those living a terrestrial or celestial law will not be burned at the last day.

24 For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.

verse 24 “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon” Babylon is everywhere that is not Zion. This verse implies that at the Lord’s second coming all who are not in Zion will be destroyed by fire. We have commented previously on the incompleteness of this concept since the terrestrial folks will also be spared, and they will not be gathered to Zion.

25 Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today.

verse 25 “while it is called today” Again, see the commentary for D&C 45:6. This phrase refers to this dispensation from the restoration of the gospel to the second coming of the Lord (see D&C 65:23). For each of us who live in this dispensation, this phrase also refers to the period between our mortal birth and our resurrection; thus it includes the time we spend in the world of spirits.

26 And it is not meet that my servants, Newel K. Whitney and Sidney Gilbert, should sell their store and their possessions here; for this is not wisdom until the residue of the church, which remaineth in this place, shall go up unto the land of Zion.

verse 26 “it is not meet that my servants, Newel K. Whitney and Sidney Gilbert, should sell their store” The Whitney store in Kirtland was generating revenue for the Church and will be needed as a bishop’s storehouse for five or six more years. It is wise, therefore, to keep it.

27 Behold, it is said in my laws, or forbidden, to get in debt to thine enemies;

verse 27 “it is . . . forbidden, to get in debt” One of the issues being raised at this time by Ezra Booth and other critics of Joseph Smith was that the Lord had forbidden the saints to incur debts as individuals, while at the same time the Church was collectively going into debt to acquire property in Kirtland and Zion. Here the Lord explains that while individual members are forbidden to contract debts to their enemies, the Lord will do as he pleases (see verses 28-29). If the Lord uses credit as a means of building his Church, or it he instructs his leaders to do so, this is not in conflict with his instructions for individuals in their own personal financial conduct. The Lord issues and revokes commandments according to our needs, but he is not himself bound by his commandments to us, nor can his agents go wrong when they obey his instructions.

28 But behold, it is not said at any time that the Lord should not take when he please, and pay as seemeth him good.

29 Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business.

30 And he hath set you to provide for his saints in these last days, that they may obtain an inheritance in the land of Zion.

31 And behold, I, the Lord, declare unto you, and my words are sure and shall not fail, that they shall obtain it.

verse 31 “my words are sure and shall not fail, that they shall obtain it” Abraham 3:17 assures us, “there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it.” In Joseph’s day, the Church did acquire a foothold in Zion, and it still belongs to the Church today. Faithful saints will both possess it and enjoy its fruits throughout eternity.

32 But all things must come to pass in their time.

verse 32 “all things must come to pass in their time” Once again, the Lord reminds the saints in 1831 (and us in our day) that they (and we) should not expect to see the fulfillment of all things any time soon.

33 Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

verse 33 “ye are laying the foundation of a great work” The Lord recognized, as some of the saints did not, that they were merely planting seeds that would not produce for a long time to come. Ezra Booth was offended at the small things that were accomplished in Missouri. Imagine his thoughts were he able to see the present day Church! Some saints may feel that their services in the Church are “small things,” but as the Lord states here, it is out of such small things that great things proceed—out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”

34 Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.

35 And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land.

verses 34-35 The reader should keep in mind that the land of Zion, with its center in Independence, Missouri, is the inheritance a part of the Lord’s people (the tribe of Joseph—Ephraim—and the others of the ten tribes of Israel) for all eternity—even after the earth has been celestialized to serve as an eternal celestial abode.

36 For, verily I say that the rebellious are not of the blood of Ephraim, wherefore they shall be plucked out.

verses 34-36 “the rebellious are not of the blood of Ephraim” Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, the son of Jacob, or Israel. After Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob, lost his birthright through transgression (see 1 Chronicles 5:1-2), Ephraim was declared to be the birthright son through the lineage of his father Joseph (see Jeremiah 31:9) and the “head” of all Israel (Psalm 60:7; 108:8), with the right to preside over his elder brother Manasseh, and also over his uncles. The ancient blessings given the tribe of Ephraim by Jacob and by Moses were, respectively, that Ephraim would “become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19) and that Ephraim, as the son who has responsibility for the family, would “push the people together” in their tens of thousands (Deuteronomy 33:17).

The tribe of Ephraim, however, was also cursed at a later time to become “wanderers among the nations” for their apostasy in making alliances with the gentile nations and for worshiping the gentile gods (Hosea 9:17). Between 732 and 722 BC, the Lord scattered Ephraim among the nations, where they eventually intermarried and lost their identity, thus in time becoming Gentiles themselves.

In the latter-day restoration of the family of Israel, Ephraim still holds the right to preside. Thus, the descendants of Ephraim, recognized as Gentiles in the scriptures or “a multitude of nations,” were the first to be converted in order that they might then “push the people together” from all nations. This fulfills the blessing of both Jacob and Moses upon the head of Ephraim. This is also why the scriptures sometimes refer to the latter-day church members as Gentiles (see D&C 109:60; 1 Nephi 15:13, 22; 2 Nephi 30:3) and sometimes as “Ephraim” (as here and in D&C 113:4). Most converts are Gentiles in terms of ethnicity and national origin, but they are also descended from the house of Israel in at least one ancestral line, or else they are adopted into the house of Israel through the gospel covenant.

“they shall be plucked out” By transgression a man, though he be descended from Joseph through Ephraim, is excluded or expelled from the house of Israel. Paul taught this principle to the early saints. The Jews took great pride in the fact that they were “of the circumcision,” that is that they were the covenant people, circumcision being the token of that covenant. But Paul pointed out that if one “of the circumcision” violated the law, his “circumcision is made uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25.) Nephi also understood this principle and taught: “For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his son, who is the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 30:2).

In this generation, Ephraim holds the birthright in the house of Israel. Hence, Ephraim must be gathered first to prepare the way and establish the Church and the priesthood. The large majority of those coming into the Church today are of the tribe of Ephraim. Today Ephraim holds the keys of the priesthood. It is with Ephraim that the Lord has made covenant, and through Ephraim has he restored his gospel in its fulness. Ephraim is building temples and performing the ordinances in them for the living and the dead. An understanding of the role of Ephraim in this dispensation helps one to understand why the Lord would say that “the rebellious are not of the blood of Ephraim.”

37 Behold, I, the Lord, have made my church in these last days like unto a judge sitting on a hill, or in a high place, to judge the nations.

38 For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion.

verses 37-38 In these important verses, the Lord points out that his Church, the kingdom of God on the earth, functions figuratively as a judge. Those who gather to Zion become the Lord’s people, regardless of their actual ancestral lineage. In the latter-day Zion, resides the priesthood authority to seal up or condemn mortals for all eternity.

39 And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known.

verse 39 “they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known” The power of revelation and righteousness is such in Zion that false prophets and apostles will be detected.

40 And even the bishop, who is a judge, and his counselors, if they are not faithful in their stewardships shall be condemned, and others shall be planted in their stead.

verse 40 “the bishop . . . and his counselors” This phrase refers to Bishop Edward Partridge. His counselors in Independence at this time are Isaac Morley and John Corrill.

“who is a judge” This is the first mention in the Doctrine and Covenants of the bishop’s role as a judge in Israel. There is an intentional irony evident here. The Lord has just pointed out that his latter-day Church and its authorized ministers function as a judge of all nations (see verses 37 and 38). He then warns that even though Bishop Partridge is a judge of all nations, if he is not faithful, he will be judged by the Lord and “condemned, and others shall be planted in [his] stead.”

41 For, behold, I say unto you that Zion shall flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her;

verse 41 “Zion shall flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her” In spite of the sinfulness of the individual members of Zion, the Lord will grant that his light or glory shall shine forth to the world from Zion. Zion will be visible to the world (see verse 42).

42 And she shall be an ensign unto the people, and there shall come unto her out of every nation under heaven.

verse 42 “[Zion] shall be an ensign” An ensign is a standard, banner, or flag by which the identity or location of a people may be known. In the last days, Zion will be seen as the standard that identifies and points out the location of the people of God.

“unto the people” To the scattered descendants of Israel (see Deuteronomy 33:17).

43 And the day shall come when the nations of the earth shall tremble because of her, and shall fear because of her terrible ones. The Lord hath spoken it. Amen.

verse 43 “and shall fear because of her terrible ones” There will come a day when those on earth who exist outside of Zion will look at Zion with fear and trembling. The leaders of Zion, “her terrible ones,” will also be regarded with awe and respect. The word terrible here refers to someone who instills dread, terror, solemn awe, and reverence. Examples of the similar use of this meaning in the scriptures include: “The Lord thy God is among you, a mighty God and terrible” (Deuteronomy 7:21); “Let them praise thy great and terrible name, for it is holy” (Psalm 99:3); and “He hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:21).

Brief Historical Setting

1831 October

In October Joseph received an important revelation in the form of a prayer which gave important information about the concept of the kingdom of God [D&C 65 -Joseph Smith’s Prayer].

- Michael J. Preece