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Doctrine and Covenants

Section 87: A Prophecy on War By Michael J. Preece

Section 87: A Prophecy on War

This revelation was received on Christmas day 1832. It is interesting to consider the probable circumstances that stimulated Joseph’s prayer for this revelation. In a manner of speaking, Joseph was “reading the newspapers and watching the six o’clock news.” At least he was reviewing the world situation, and he was aware of a potentially explosive political situation in the United States. The fall and winter of 1832 were dominated by a political controversy known as the Nullification Crisis. This crisis grew out of the tensions existing between various geographic sections of the pre-Civil War United States. Specifically, the South felt itself threatened by the North. The state of South Carolina was the center of the unrest generated by this controversy. Southerners, and particularly South Carolinians, felt oppressed and disadvantaged by the high protective tariff of 1828, the so-called Tariff of Abomination. This tariff imposed heavy duties on foreign manufactured goods, which favored the industrial North (they could manufacture their own equipment), while at the same time it worked against the interests of those in the agrarian South who needed the foreign goods. In addition to the economic problems, the South was becoming increasingly wary of the growing anti­slavery movement in the North.

In order to protect itself from these threats, South Carolina passed an Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance was based on a states rights philosophy which claimed the following: (1) Sovereignty resided in the states. (2) The states had created the federal government. (3) The states could decide if a law was constitutional. (4) If a federal law was determined not to be so, that law could be declared null and void in that state.

On November 24, 1832, a special convention in South Carolina declared the Tariff of 1828 null and void. This explosive situation nearly caused a war in 1832.

It was in this historical setting that Joseph Smith received his Prophecy on War. One might ask: how much did the Prophet know about this political controversy? One finds a clue in the History of the Church taken in part from the personal records of the Prophet. From a note on December 25, 1832, we find:

Appearances of troubles among the nations became more visible this season than they had previously been since the Church began her journey out of the wilderness. The ravages of the cholera were frightful in almost all the large cities on the globe. The plague broke out in India, while the United States, amid all her pomp and greatness, was threatened with immediate dissolution. The people of South Carolina, in convention assembled (in November), passed ordinances, declaring their state a free and independent nation; and appointed Thursday, the 31st day of January, 1833, as a day of humiliation and prayer, to implore Almighty God to vouchsafe his blessings, and restore liberty and happiness within their borders. President Jackson issued his proclamation against this rebellion, called out a force sufficient to quell it, and implored the blessings of God to assist the nation to extricate itself from the horrors of the approaching and solemn crisis.

It is ironic that on the day of peace, December 25th, Joseph received the Prophecy on War.

It would seem, on balance, that the slavery issue was prominent in the Prophet’s mind. In 1860 Brigham Young informed the saints that at the time section 87 was received, the Prophet and his brethren had been pondering the question of slavery: “Brother Joseph had that revelation concerning this nation [section 87] at a time when the brethren were reflecting and reasoning with regard to African slavery on this continent, and the slavery of the children of men throughout the world” (JD, 8:58). On April 2, 1843, eighteen years prior to the Civil War, Joseph will further clarify that on Christmas Day 1832, as he had been praying to know about the wars that were to come upon the nations, a voice had revealed section 87 to him (see D&C 130:12-13)” (HC, 5:324; 6:116; Grant, JD, 2:147). He further clarified at that time also that the rebellion of South Carolina would probably begin over the issue of slavery. Thus, in Joseph’s own mind, the coming war was going to be fought, not over the tariff issues raised by the Nullification Crisis, but over slavery.

Section 87 was not published in 1835, nor in subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876, although it was published in 1851 by Franklin D. Richards in England. In an address in 1860, Brigham Young referred to the still-uncanonized revelation: “Brother [Orson] Hyde spoke of a revelation which he tried to find in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. That revelation was reserved at the time the compilation for that book was made by Oliver Cowdery and others in Kirtland. It was not wisdom to publish it to the world, and it remained in the private escritoire [writing desk]” (JD, 8:58). Perhaps it was feared in the early days that a revelation about the wars that were to fall upon the Gentiles would be interpreted as threats against non­members and have an incendiary effect upon the enemies of the Church. Other verses had also been held back from Joseph’s revelations for similar reasons.

Even though section 87 was not included in the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876, it is well attested before that time and is, in fact, one of the most reprinted sections in that volume of scripture. The earliest extant copy of the revelation, in the handwriting of Sidney Gilbert, was made some time before June 12, 1833. Orson Pratt recalled: “When I was a boy, I traveled extensively in the United States and the Canadas, preaching this restored gospel. I had a manuscript copy of the revelation [section 87] which I carried in my pocket, and I was in the habit of reading it to the people among whom I traveled and preached” (JD, 13:135).

When the Civil War did begin, the exact and detailed correctness of Joseph’s prophecy caused it to be considered an “oddity” by the national media, and the Doctrine and Covenants 87 was printed and reprinted in non-LDS newspapers along with the question, “Have we not had a prophet among us?” (HC, 1:312-16).

In Joseph’s own day, however, in consequence of the information received in section 87, he was commanded by the Lord to write a warning letter to the nation. This he did ten days after receiving section 87. His letter, to a Mr. N. E. Seaton (or, possibly, Sexton) was sent to Rochester, New York, and published in Seaton’s newspaper there. Moreover, Joseph exhorted other persons in his own lifetime to warn their friends and relatives in South Carolina to repent and to flee the carnage that was coming to that area. For example, Wilford Woodruff’s journal for December 30, 1860, records the following: “Brother Emmett Murphy preached in the morning and gave an account of his receiving the gospel, his gathering to Missouri, his visit to Joseph in Prison, [and] the advice of Joseph the Prophet to him to go to South Carolina and Georgia and warn his friends of the wrath and desolation that the people in that land [would suffer] and to gather out his friends to Zion, for the wars and rebellion would begin in South Carolina” (cited in Woodford’s Historical Development, 2:1108).

Joseph Smith later prophesied that the coming war would devastate Jackson County, Missouri, for its persecution of the saints so that “the fields and farms and houses will be destroyed, and only the chimneys will be left to mark the desolation” (Grey, “Joseph Smith and the Civil War,” 20; compare Webb, Battles and Biographies of Missourians, 5; Howard, Illinois, 298). This prophecy was fulfilled in every horrible detail.

Section 87 was first published in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price, printed in England in 1851. It became part of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 when it was included by Orson Pratt at the direction of President Brigham Young.

Let us examine some of Joseph’s predictions concerning the Civil War and then test the truth of these predictions by examining the subsequent historical events. Bear in mind that he made this prophecy twenty-eight years, three months, and seventeen days before the Civil War began.

Scripture Mastery

D&C 87 A Prophecy on War

D&C 87:1-3 Joseph’s prophesying of the Civil War.

D&C 87:8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord.

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;

verse 1 “the wars that will shortly come to pass” His first prediction was that war would occur. Take note of the fact that the word “wars” in verse 1 is plural. Section 87 is not just a revelation on the Civil War, but on war generally as it will apply to the saints in the latter days.

The spirit of prophecy, however, specifically directed him to declare that there definitely would be a war between the states. Of course, this war did take place and is known to us as the Civil War—between 1861 and 1865. The Civil War will mark the beginning of a series of conflicts that will in time bring about “a full end of all nations” (verse 6).

“beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina” Joseph prophesied that South Carolina would take the initiative. On November 17, 1860, South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession and in the following month became the first state to secede from the Union. On April 12, 1861, the Confederate forces laid siege to Fort Sumter. This fort, garrisoned by United States troops, was located in the harbor off Charleston, South Carolina. Thus began the great war between the states, and indeed, South Carolina did take the initiative.

“death and misery of many souls” He further prophesied that this war would bring death to many. As it turned out, the Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars in history. Of the approximately 2.4 million men who fought in the Civil War, almost half were killed or injured. At the time, this number represented a large percentage of the adult male population of the United States. The number killed or wounded varies considerably depending upon the source you chose to believe. Most Civil War studies give casualty figures in excess of 600,000. One indication of just how high the losses were is shown by a comparison with casualties in other U.S. wars. The aggregate figure for the Civil War is usually held to be about 618,000 (360,000 North, 258,000 South). The next highest casualty figure is for World War II, during which 318,000 died. World War II is followed by World War I with 115,000. Other casualty figures include: The American Revolution—4,044; War of 1812—2,200; Mexican War—13,270; Korean War—33,000; and Vietnam War—46,616.

2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.

verse 2 “beginning at this place” That is, beginning with the start of the Civil War in South Carolina. As stated, the prophecy on war was not limited to the Civil War. It also included wars in other nations. In fact, the prophecy declared that “war will be poured out upon all nations.” Since the Civil War, wars have occurred with greater frequency and warfare has become more severe. It has been reported that there have been over 245 wars between World War II and the year 1983. The Civil War marks the beginning of the wars of the last days, for the Civil War is generally accepted as the first “modern” war. For the first time, technology, tactics, politics, and other factors combined to make it possible to destroy hundreds of thousands and, later, even millions of persons in a relatively short time. The world wars, holocausts, and “killing fields” endured since the Civil War would not have been possible on such a scale at an earlier time in the earth’s history before the advent of “modern” technology, politics, and warfare.

3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

verse 3 “the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain” The Prophet foretold the nature of the antagonists in this conflict. He specifically stated that the North would fight the South, which is in fact what occurred. Joseph also prophesied of two other specific events in this verse.

First, the southern states would call upon Great Britain and other nations for aid. Once war broke out, the South did send commissioners to various European nations to seek diplomatic recognition and military aid, including Great Britain, France, Holland, and Belgium. These nations offered passive support to the South but would not enter into official political and military alliances unless the Confederacy could demonstrate some likelihood of ultimate victory.

“they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves” Second, a specific historical period is described, when “they shall also call upon other nations” to defend themselves from still “other nations.” When the events described in this verse take place, war will become worldwide. Brother Sidney B. Sperry noted that the pronoun “they” in this passage refers not to the South but to the nations to which the South had previously appealed, that is, to Great Britain and France, Holland, and Belgium. This seems likely, since the South never sought military aid against “other nations” (foreign powers) but only against the Northern States. Thus, the prophecy in verse 3 indicates that during the Civil War the South would call upon Britain as well as on other nations. Then, at a later time, those other nations, Britain, France, Holland, and Belgium would in turn also call upon other nations for help against their enemies, and war would at that time be poured out upon the whole world. In fact, Great Britain and these other nations did seek the aid of other nations at least twice in the twentieth century, and on each occasion the result was a world war.

4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.

verse 4 “slaves shall rise up against their masters” Daniel H. Wells (Millennial Star, 27:186-87) stated: “Many of the slaves formerly belonging to the southern states have been marshaled and disciplined for war by the North and arrayed in deadly combat against their former masters. On July 10, 1863, a federal officer wrote: Forty thousand strong are already in the service. They are destined to wield the sword of just retribution, to teach their former masters which of them is the superior race.”

Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett have proposed another meaning for this verse. They feel that it does not apply to the Civil War which is to occur “shortly” (verse 1). In contrast the conflict or conflicts describe in this verse will occur after “many days.” They reason:

“Many days” after the Civil War and “many days” after the world wars in which Britain and her allies call upon other nations for help, then will slaves rise up against their masters. In chronological context, it will be seen that the reference cannot be to the black slaves of the nineteenth century South, who for the most part did not rise up against their masters, but to all inhabitants of the earth who are in political or economic bondage in a period after the world wars. Brigham Young stated that Joseph Smith and the brethren had been pondering the slavery both of black Africans in the Americas and of all the peoples of the world when this revelation came to him (JD, 8:58). In other terms, a worldwide outbreak of demands for independence and self-determination on the part of every conceivable ethnic, political, racial, economic, linguistic, or religious group will tear the nations of the world apart and engulf the earth in blood and war. We have seen this process at work specifically in such former Communist Bloc countries as Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, and so forth. No doubt we will see more in the future (Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 89).

“who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war” Satan loves war, and wherever Satan has gained influence on the earth there will be elaborate and expensive preparations for war. As the nations of the earth prepare to wage war with each other, it appears that their own minorities, splinter groups, and “break-away republics” will cause internal dissension and collapse.

5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.

verse 5 “the remnants who are left of the land” In addition to the factors discussed above which have resulted in wars in the United States of America and in other countries of the world, there is yet another factor. It is that the “remnants who are left of the land” will rise up in anger to produce yet further conflicts. Who are these remnants? Generally, they are held to be the indigenous peoples of the United States and other countries of the world. These would include the native Indian peoples of North, Central, and South America, including whatever element of them originated from the Book of Mormon peoples. Certainly some of these remnants may be remnants of the house of Israel. These shall “vex the Gentiles.” The Gentiles in this context may be the population of the United States of America or the populations of many other countries.

This passage may have been misunderstood, as some readers may suppose it refers only to the Indian wars in the United States in the last half of the nineteenth century. The native American peoples do indeed seem to be some of the “remnants” referred to here, and the Indian wars may have been a partial fulfillment of the prophecy, but there may be a greater fulfillment yet to come. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “The history of this American continent . . . gives evidence that the Lamanites have risen up in their anger and vexed the Gentiles. This warfare may not be over. It has been the fault of people in the United States to think that this prophetic saying has reference to the Indians in the United States, but we must remember that there are millions of the ‘remnant’ in Mexico, Central and South America. . . . The independence of Mexico and other nations to the south has been accomplished by the uprising of the ‘remnant’ upon the land. However, let us not think that this prophecy has completely been fulfilled” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:127).

6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

verse 6 “the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn” It would seem that the sequence of wars, violence, disasters, and other hardships which began with the Civil War, will only increase during this final dispensation to the point where virtually no one will be spared. This sequence will terminate with the second coming of the Lord and the great destruction of the wicked elements of the earth that will occur then.

The Prophet Joseph said:

I saw men hunting the lives of their own sons, and brother murdering brother, women killing their own daughters, and daughters seeking the lives of their mothers. I saw armies arrayed against armies. I saw blood, desolation, fires. The Son of Man has said that the mother shall be against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother. These things are at our doors. They will follow the saints of God from city to city. Satan will rage, and the spirit of the devil is now enraged. I know not how soon these things will take place; but with a view of them, shall I cry peace? No; I will lift up my voice and testify of them. How long you will have good crops, and the famine be kept off, I do not know; when the fig tree leaves, know then that the summer is nigh at hand (HC, 3:391).

A first taste of these conditions would be experienced with the Civil War and the world wars, but the full realization of the “consumption decreed” (verse 6) will only be experienced as we approach the world’s last day. Thus, it will be necessary for the saints to recognize the signs of the times through their study of the scriptures and by listening to the words of the prophets and gather to the stakes of Zion for safety. A reasonably thorough discussion of the latter-day signs of the times is available to the reader. See three chapters in volume 3 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine. They are chapter 24, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Introduction, chapter 25, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Those that Warn, and chapter 26, Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming—Those that Punish and Cleanse.

“chastening hand of an Almighty God” The eventual destruction of the nations will not be an arbitrary act. It will be the just punishment meted out to them by God for rejecting the gospel, killing the prophets, and persecuting the saints (see verse 7). According to D&C 63:33, in these wars “the wicked shall slay the wicked.” In the beginning of this dispensation, the American Civil War marked a judgment upon the United States for their treatment of the saints, just as worldwide consumption of the nations will mark God’s judgment upon all nations for the same sins as we draw closer to the end.

“a full end of all nations” The only political entity that will pass from this fallen, telestial world into the glorious, terrestrial Millennium intact will be the kingdom of God. All nations, including the United States, will be consumed in the chaos and destructions that precede the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Millennium, there will be only one kingdom and one King.

It is possible that events preceding the Savior’s glorious appearance to the Nephites will prove to parallel events preceding his glorious coming in our own dispensation. These parallels might include the rise of gangs and conspiracies (see 3 Nephi 1:27-30; 6:27-28), the increasing wickedness of the people (see 3 Nephi 2:1-3), wars, famines, and sieges (see 3 Nephi 4:2-5), the worst battles in Nephite history (see 3 Nephi 4:11), corruption of the legal system (see 3 Nephi 6:11-12, 21-30), the collapse of government and division into smaller groups (see 3 Nephi 7:2-6), the growth of the Church (see 3 Nephi 7:24-26), and, finally, unexpected natural disasters and the destruction of the wicked (see 3 Nephi 8).

7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.

verse 7 “the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints” God is a God of justice, and those who reject his mercy offered in the gospel covenant must suffer his justice when they have ripened in iniquity. Elder George Q. Cannon wrote: “There is no sin that a nation can commit, which the Lord avenges so speedily and fearfully as he does the shedding of innocent blood, or, in other words, the killing of his anointed and authorized servants. No nation which has been guilty of this dreadful crime has ever escaped his vengeance” (Millennial Star, 4 June 1864, 361).

“the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord” The Lord will take vengeance upon the wicked nations, and the righteous shall be protected. Thus, the cry and blood of the saints will not longer come up into the ears of the Lord.

“Lord of Sabaoth” For a discussion of the unique title “Lord of Sabaoth,” see the commentary for D&C 88:2.

8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.

verse 8 “stand ye in holy places, and be not moved” So what do we do? “stand ye in holy places, and be not moved.” In other words, be found in the correct places, associating with the right people, and remain calm. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “Holy men and holy women stand in holy places, and these holy places include our temples, our chapels, our homes, and the stakes of Zion” (“Prepare Yourselves for the Great Day of the Lord,” 68).

“it cometh quickly” See the commentary for D&C 33:18.

- Michael J. Preece