Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 98: Laws of Retribution, War, and Forgiveness By Michael J. Preece

Section 98: Laws of Retribution, War, and Forgiveness

The Saints are being driven out of Jackson County, Missouri, by force. They had been there for about two years, but in late July 1833 they were angrily persecuted and made to leave. Many had crossed the Missouri River and were camping in the prairies of Clay County with few provisions, clothes, and with little food.

This revelation was received on or just prior to August 6, 1833. See the introduction to section 97. It is not entirely clear when Oliver Cowdery arrived in Kirtland bearing the news that the saints in Independence had been physically attacked by Missouri mobbers. The best guess for his arrival seems to be August 9. It thus seems likely that when he received this revelation, Joseph still did not know specifically of the disastrous happenings in Jackson County. However, in an unpublished letter of July 9, 1833, Oliver Cowdery had written the Prophet from Missouri describing the plight of the saints in Independence. Though this letter has subsequently been lost, it seems likely that Oliver was able to give a rather comprehensive description of the precarious relationship between the saints and the Missourians. This July letter, after all, was written less than two weeks prior to the attack of the mob, and it seems likely that Oliver would have communicated a foreboding feeling about the safety of the saints. Even before he heard of the attack on the saints, Joseph doubtless knew that the saints in Zion were frightened, bitter, frustrated, and discouraged. It is not difficult to imagine the kinds of questions that filled Joseph’s heart and the hearts of the saints as they faced the reality of their deteriorating situation in Jackson County. Undoubtedly they were asking even the most basic questions of God: “Wilt thou forsake us?” “Art thou really there?” “Are we going to have to consider a new gathering place?” “Should we retaliate against our persecutors?” “What about the temple we’re commanded to built?”

Section 98 speaks to all of the saints, both in Missouri and in Kirtland, calmly, sensibly, and mercifully. It is a beautiful and important revelation on the laws of retribution, war, and forgiveness. As the Lord counsels the persecuted saints, he counsels us as well, for we share their quest. We too must establish Zion.

In this difficult period, the Lord counsels: “Fear not . . . rejoice . . . and give thanks” (verse 1). Wait “patiently on the Lord” (verse 2). These afflictions eventually “shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory” (verse 3). Obey the laws of the land. Don’t break the law and try to retaliate against the Missourians (verses 4-7). The law will make you free (verse 8). Seek to elect good and wise men to rule and uphold the laws (verse 10). Whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall be exalted (verse 13). Do not fear your enemies even unto death (verse 14). Even in difficult and stressful situations “renounce war and proclaim peace” (verse 16). If you are obedient, evil shall not prevail against you (verse 22).

Scripture Mastery

D&C 98 Laws of Retribution, War, and Forgiveness

D&C 98:32-38 The Lord’s law of war: Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles. And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord; Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people. And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children's battles, and their children's children's, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.

1 Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;

verse 1 “I say unto you my friends” As mentioned, the Lord’s salutation here is directed to the entire Church, both those in Missouri and those in the Ohio.

“rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks” No matter the extent of the opposition or how desperate their physical circumstances, the Lord’s saints may rejoice and offer thanks for the spiritual blessings of the gospel and for the assurance that if they remain faithful, the kingdom is theirs (see D&C 25:1; 37:27; 38:9; 50:35; 62:9; 78:18; and 82:34).

2 Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.

verse 2 “Waiting patiently on the Lord” To “wait on” the Lord has two possible meanings, according to Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary. On the one hand, it means “to attend, as a servant” or “to be ready to serve; to obey” the Lord (compare 2 Chronicles 17:19; Psalm 25:3, 5). On the other hand, it means “to look watchfully,” or to wait for the Lord to appear (see Mark 15:43) or to answer the prayers of his saints. The language here strongly favors this latter meaning.

“the Lord of Sabaoth” See the commentary for D&C 87:7.

“and are recorded with this seal and testament” The righteous prayers of the saints have all been recorded in the heavens and will all be granted in the due time of the Lord. This is also the Savior’s promise in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 7:7). The seal and testament that guarantee this ultimate fulfillment are God’s. God has sealed those prayers, and no power but our own unfaithfulness can break that seal.

He who cannot lie here testifies and swears that our righteous prayers will not be lost, or forgotten, or overlooked, but will all be granted. However, this promise does not guarantee that the righteous prayers of the saints will be granted right now, or even in the short-term or in the intermediate future. Nevertheless, all these things will be granted and fulfilled by the time the exalted saints receive “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38; see Romans 8:17, 32).

3 Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.

verse 3 “with an immutable covenant” Immutable means “unchangeable” or “unalterable.” This is the gospel covenant or baptismal covenant wherein we agree to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and enter into a solemn covenant to obey the Lord’s commands. The Lord, in turn, has taken an oath to reward us for our obedience in the form of spiritual growth which leads back to our celestial home. This agreement between the saints and their God cannot be changed, altered, or repealed. Though the covenant itself cannot be changed, our covenant relationship with the Lord is quite dynamic depending upon our obedience to the gospel commands.

“all things wherewith you have been afflicted” We should not conclude from this phrase that the Lord deliberately afflicts each instance of suffering upon each man. We are not asked to accept naively or without a second thought that whatever happens is God’s will. Suffering is an intrinsic part of mortality, and will surely befall each man regardless of his circumstances or station. It is a built in part of this mortal trial. Our covenant relationship with the Lord offers no immunity from affliction while we are here on earth. See Adversity and Suffering in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 1.

“shall work together for your good” We may draw comfort and hope from our covenant relationship with the Lord. No matter what we suffer on this earth, if we are faithful, it will all turn to our good, and we will ultimately return home. In order to return home, however, we must grow, and there is no spiritual growth without some pain. Suffering offers us an opportunity to grow more quickly toward godhood and thus toward our celestial home. The Lord has pointed out in scripture the inevitability and even the desirability of our suffering. The prophet Jacob wrote, “We would to God . . . that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world” (Jacob 1:8, italics mine).

A fine distinction must be made here. The Lord does not say that affliction is good, that suffering is good, that trials or abuse are good, or anything of the kind. In the Gethsemane experience of the Savior, we are not asked to believe that his pain was not hideous, that his suffering was not monstrous, that his experience was not grotesquely undeserved. We are asked only to believe that it all worked together for our good.

Neither are the saints asked to believe in the face of their own trials or in the trials of those around them that they should be happy because evil is just good in disguise or because trials are just blessings in disguise. We are also not asked to believe that pain isn’t really hideous and evil isn’t really ugly. We are only asked to believe that in the end all our pains and trials will not have been for nothing. Rather, they will work for our good.

4 And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

verse 4 “concerning the laws of the land” The major theme tying section 98 together might be the answer to the question, “As a member of the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth, what are my obligations as a member of society living under civil authority?” In the context of the United States in 1833, the short answer would be to obey God (see verse 4), to keep the law of the land (see verses 5-8), to vote for good leaders (see verses 9-10), to keep the covenant and keep the peace (see verses 11­22), to observe the higher law of retaliation—as applicable to families (see verses 23­32) and nations (see verses 33-38)—and to observe the law of forgiveness for individuals (see verses 39-48).

5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

verse 5 “that law of the land which is constitutional” A careful study of the history of the period of the great Reformation and the alterations in the basic religious and secular freedoms that resulted therefrom reveals the clear will of the Lord in the process of winning an acceptable degree of liberty to the people of the United States of America (see D&C 101:80). There can be no question that the Lord’s hand was evident in the Declaration of Independence, in the Constitution of the United States of America, in the Bill of Rights, and in the obtaining freedom of religious study and religious worship for the people of this country. Laws must be constantly tested against the Constitution. When they are constitutional, they are acceptable to the Lord and must be obeyed by the saints.

“that principle of freedom” This phrase refers to the principle of freedom underlying the Constitution of the United States. Or it might refer to the Constitution itself. Individual laws are justifiable only to the extent that they conform to that principle of freedom fundamental to the Constitution. According to the prophet Joseph: “The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of its liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land” (HC, 3:304).

“belongs to all mankind” Although early saints sometimes assumed a strictly American context for the constitution, there is no reason why contemporary members cannot assume an international context and seek to govern themselves by the principles of freedom as they are found in the Constitution of the United States to the degree that this is politically possible in their individual situations. Many nations that have emerged since 1776 have adopted legal systems styled upon that Constitution. In any case, however, Latter-day Saints “believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” wherever they might live (Articles of Faith 1:12).

“is justifiable before me” Although it is true that individual members will be justified in obeying the constitutional law of the land, it is not necessarily the case that the constitutional law of the land always defines what the Lord would otherwise ask, prohibit, or allow in a Zion society. Lack of blame, or being justified, is not the same thing as praise or commendation. Being justified by observing the present civil code is our refuge from blame before the Lord in matters of civil law, but one day being commended or praised by the Lord for establishing a Zion society ought to remain our collective hope and aspiration.

6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

verse 6 “in befriending that law” What a noble word is befriending! It says just enough and yet not too much. In fact, to say more or less than this in regard to the civil law “cometh of evil” (verse 7). The law is our friend, and we may, therefore, embrace it. We respect the law, but we do not worship it. Civil law is good, but it is not divine. It may be our partner, but it is not our deity.

7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

verse 7 “whatsoever is more or less than this” Law which is less than constitutional, which bypasses the constitutional balance of powers (for example, legislation by executive or judicial decree, and so forth) comes of evil and leads to further evil.

Individuals sometimes want to exalt the Constitution too highly by refusing to accept amendments to the Constitution or Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution, consequently revering the civil law to excess. Sometimes the opposite tendency is seen. Either point of view “cometh of evil.” Usually when people say that something is unconstitutional, what they really mean is that in a more perfect world something wouldn’t be allowed. They may even be correct, but that is beside the point. Our present civil law can be less than perfect, less than a Zion law, and yet still be in fact the constitutional law of the land, and we are still bound to obey it.

8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

verse 8 “I, the Lord God, make you free” The “freedom” referred to here is our individual moral agency. Individual agency is a principle sacrosanct in the universe and applicable to all intelligences. It would seem that it has always been so. God would not, and indeed cannot abrogate this principle, else he would cease to be God. While God did not actually grant agency to each intelligence, here in mortality he has provided us a situation that allows ample freedoms. Thus, we have the latitude to exercise our agency and grow spiritually. We are thus “free indeed.” If you are not comfortable with the concepts of agency and freedom and the significant differences between these concepts, please see Agency and Freedom in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 13.

“the law also maketh you free” In addition to moral agency that cannot be taken from us, civil law affords us a variable range of political freedoms or liberties depending upon where we live and the laws in force under which we live.

Civil laws are necessary. They limit freedoms of some in order to guarantee freedoms for others. For example, may I own a cow and keep it in my yard? Under what conditions may I drive a car? Should I be free to own a cow, or should my neighbor be free from a next-door neighbor who owns a cow? Should I as a fourteen­year-old be free to drive a car, or should people be free from the danger of immature drivers.

9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

verse 9 Despite the finest philosophical principles of government embodied in the Constitution and despite the best-intended body of constitutional law based upon those principles, if the men and women who hold elective and appointed offices in any country are wicked, corrupt, or dishonest then the people will live in misery. No system of government, no matter how inspired, can long survive being managed by wicked leaders.

10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.

verse 10 “honest . . . good . . . and wise men” Here is evidence that active participation in government is a religious obligation for the faithful Latter-day Saint. Not only are we commanded to vote, we are commanded to seek out honest, good, and wise candidates for whom to vote. We do not necessarily need to run for office ourselves, but we do need to vote intelligently for men and women of wisdom and of good character.

“whatsoever is les than these cometh of evil” To vote for a less than honest, good, and wise candidate “cometh of evil.”

11 And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.

verse 11 “forsake all evil” To forsake evil here is to abandon it, quit it, or leave it alone. In the present context, this would also include evil political philosophies and evil office seekers (verses 7, 10).

“cleave unto all good” The verb cleave has two contradictory meanings: “to split or separate” and “to bond or stick to.” Obviously the latter meaning applies here.

12 For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.

verse 12 “he will give unto the faithful line upon line” These phrases may be understood in two opposing senses, both of which are true. They are most often understood to mean that God will continue to reveal things to the faithful in an unceasing stream of revelations until finally they know the truth of all things. We know that this is true by such revelations as D&C 42:61 or 76:7.

The other sense of “line upon line, precept upon precept” is that the Lord will give the faithful only a little bit of revelation at a time. Then he will wait and test the reaction of the saints to what has been given. If they prove faithful, he will then add another little bit, another line or precept, then wait and test or try them again, and so on.

In this particular verse, the second meaning is likely, since the Lord explicitly states his intention of testing and trying the saints with the very lines and precepts he is revealing to them. So, in this instance, “line upon line, precept upon precept” means that the Lord will give his saints a little bit of revelation and then test them. If they prove faithful, he will then give them a little bit more and test them again, and so on.

13 And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.

verse 13 “whoso layeth down his life in my cause” The Lord seems to say here that he who suffers mortal death because of his being on the Lord’s errand will receive great eternal blessings. A related verse, Matthew 10:39 teaches, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” This verse suggests that he who “layeth down his life” may either forfeit his life or he may dedicate his life and remain alive.

14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.

verse 14 “be not afraid of your enemies . . . even unto death” No one gets through life uninjured, and no one gets out this mortal experience alive. Unfortunately, the faithful have little advantage over the wicked in avoiding the common pains and trials of mortality. And everyone makes enemies. Usually one’s only choice is whether one’s enemies will be found among the wicked or among the righteous. It is certain that the faithful will make enemies and suffer persecution. In fact, the most faithful will often make the bitterest and most vicious enemies, and often they suffer the most persecution, but such persecution, though difficult at the time, is a sure indicator of future joy (see Matthew 5:10-12).

“I will prove you in all things” All our life is a test and a trial, not just in the large and difficult things, but in the little everyday things as well. We don’t normally think of an afternoon at the library, an hour on the internet, or a moment daydreaming as tests, but they are. You can only read one book or magazine at a time. You can only view one screen on the computer at a time. You can only think one thought at a time. And so, with all the books in the library, with all the screens on the internet, with all the thoughts in the universe to read, view, or think, to choose this or that single one—to the exclusion of all others—says something about what our heart desires and, therefore, about what we are.

15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.

verse 15 “abide in my covenant” Can you remain faithful to your covenants even when life turns on you? Can you remain faithful to your covenants when life turns on you so viciously that it seems God himself has turned on you? At some point in life, most people will face a test like Abraham’s (see Genesis 22:1-14). They will reach a point where it seems that God is not living up to his promises or to their expectations. It may seem that he is not keeping his side of the covenant and that when this is pointed out, his only response seems to be, “So what?” At such a time, it would be wise to consider that this may not be a betrayal by God so much as it may be an important question on the final exam of life. The only right answer in this situation is to say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

16 Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children;

verse 16 “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace” The word “therefore” is important here, because it ties this verse to the last as a conclusion that may be drawn from it. Since you are not worthy of Christ if you do not abide his covenant, then keep his covenant by renouncing war and proclaiming peace. In times to come, this commandment would prevent the saints from making preemptive strikes or first strikes against their enemies. In addition, it also forbade them from adopting the Old Testament lex talionis, or law of retribution—“eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Deuteronomy 19:21)—that pertained to the lesser law of Moses. Instead, the saints will be given at this time a higher law of retaliation congruent with the principles of the gospel (see verses 32-37). The ancient Nephites also lived the higher law of retaliation (see Alma 48:14-16). It was part of their covenants contained within the Melchizedek Priesthood and the fulness of the gospel.

“turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children” This is one of those scriptures that has more than one correct application. While we normally associate these words from Malachi 4:6 with family history and temple work, it is unlikely that very many in the 1833 Church could have so understood it, since none of the revelations, keys, or temples needed were yet in place. Family history and temple work were unknown doctrines for the most of the saints at this time. Given the context of the passage in this particular verse of renouncing war and proclaiming peace, it is likely that most of the saints would have understood the allusion to Malachi quite literally as making peace between and among families (see also verse 23). Only later would they see the deeper meaning that could be read beneath the surface of extended human families being sealed together through temple ordinances.

17 And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me.

verse 17 “the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets” Our initial instinct is to understand this passage in terms of the final restoration of Judah in the last days. This may well be so. But, again, since there were very few Jews in the environment of the 1833 Church, it may also be that the term Jew was meant to be understood here as it was in D&C 57:4, to refer to Native Americans, with whom the Church then had and continues now to have interest and experience

18 Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also.

verse 18 “in my Father’s house are many mansions” The term Father’s house refers to the celestial heaven. The word mansion is not intended to imply something larger than a house. Rather it is intended simply to convey the sense of varied and multiple personal rewards to the faithful. It also conveys sense of personal closeness with our heavenly family.

19 Behold, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland;

verse 19 Just as section 97 delivers a specific warning and commandments to the Church in Missouri, so section 98 delivers a specific warning to the Church in Kirtland. Remember that at this time there were only about 150 members of the Church in the Kirtland area. Verses 20-22 contain the same kind of promises and warnings that were given to the saints in Missouri in D&C 97:24-27.

20 For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness, and all their detestable things, and observe the words of wisdom and eternal life which I have given unto them.

verse 20 “they do not forsake their sins” The Lord speaks of the Kirtland saints collectively and not individually.

“observe the words of wisdom” The use of the plural here indicates that the intended meaning is not confined to section 89, what we know as the Word of Wisdom, but refers to all the revelations of the Lord to the saints.

21 Verily I say unto you, that I, the Lord, will chasten them and will do whatsoever I list, if they do not repent and observe all things whatsoever I have said unto them. 22 And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

verses 23-31 The Lord’s law of retribution, retaliation, or revenge for families.

23 Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;

verse 23 “I speak unto you concerning your families” These verses do not really speak of family interrelationships but, rather, they discuss family defenses. Notice the plural pronoun ye in these verses, indicating that these verses are directed to families and heads of families and not to individuals.

Since the saints are going to be afflicted by their enemies and persecuted contrary to the law, at what point are they justified in taking the law into their own hands and resorting to violence in retaliation against their enemies? The law of Moses in the Old Testament seemed to allow appropriate retaliation after being injured the first time (see Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:20-21). Because the law of retaliation, the lex talionis, or “an eye for an eye” (Matthew 5:38), is both fair and biblical, it could be argued that it was a good standard for the Latter-day Saints. The Old Testament law of retribution, although strictly just, was part of the preparatory gospel given to ancient Israel, fulfilled with the resurrection of Christ, and was an inadequate law for living the gospel or establishing Zion in the latter days.

“if men will smite you, or your families, once” In effect this verse has the same force as Matthew 5:38-39 in the Sermon on the Mount. There the Savior explicitly states that the law of retaliation in the law of Moses, “an eye for an eye,” is no longer sufficient for a Christian. Now the law must be, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).

“revile not against them, neither seek revenge” To be rewarded, it is not enough simply to forgo revenge. We must bear the insult patiently and revile not. That is, we must not lose our temper and lash out physically or verbally. Like Christ our Savior, we must absorb evil and reflect back good.

“ye shall be rewarded” In the Sermon on the Mount, the reward for those who make peace is to be called the children of God (see Matthew 5:9); the reward for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake is the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 5:10); and loving our enemies is the way in which we become truly our Heavenly Father’s children (see Matthew 5:45).

24 But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you.

verse 24 “if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted . . . a just measure unto you” If we retaliate in kind when offended, then it doesn’t really matter who hit whom first. Both sides end up victims to the same extent, and both sides end up aggressors to the same extent, and so justice has no further interest in the matter. We got even; so we’re even. By our own hand, the scales of justice have been balanced, and everything is now fair. The actions of both sides are justified by reason of the penalties they have mutually suffered and exacted. However, had we not retaliated, then the law of justice would have remained outraged, and God would have been obliged to reward us and to demand satisfaction of our enemies.

25 And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold.

26 And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold;

verse 26 “doubled unto you four-fold” Since the second offense has already paid off a hundred fold (see verse 25), this would seem to make the third offense pay off a total of eight hundred times more than the first offense if we bear it patiently, though the number is likely meant to be symbolic and hyperbolic of overflowing blessings rather than to be taken to mean mathematical literality.

27 And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out.

verse 27 “these three testimonies” The three attacks, or afflictions, of one’s enemies stand as three witnesses under the law of witnesses that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16; see Deuteronomy 19:15). On the third occurrence, the evil intent of our adversary may be deemed a matter of record. The third time we are injured, his or her behavior cannot be misunderstood as a mistake, or a coincidence, or a misinterpretation. There is a clear pattern of aggression, and we are justified in assuming that this is so.

28 And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.

verse 28 “if that enemy shall escape my vengeance” Sometimes the Lord himself punishes the wicked by bringing upon them the very plagues and destructions they sought to bring upon the saints. Just as Pharaoh planned to slay the firstborn of Israel only to lose his own firstborn, sometimes the Lord takes his own vengeance upon the enemies of the saints.

“ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name” After the third offense the righteous are under obligation to put an offender on notice that they are liable to retaliation, should they attack yet again. The Lord is interested not in maximizing the scope of retaliation but in minimizing prospects for revenge. Nevertheless, such a warning is sufficient “unto the third and fourth generation” and ought to be taken seriously.

29 And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands;

verse 29 “I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands” The testimony of three separate offenses (see verse 27) clearly establishes the continuing evil intent of our enemies. If we issue a fair warning of retaliation against further attacks (see verse 28), then any action we must take to secure justice following a fourth attack will be acceptable to the Lord. Once our enemy’s malice is a matter of record, as well as the repeated nature of his attacks, then any measures we are forced to take may be understood as justifiable self-defense. Note that we are not justified in taking vengeance in such a case, for “vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19; see also verse 45). Rather, we are justified by the principle of self-defense.

30 And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.

verse 30 “then if thou wilt spare him” It should be pointed out that even after a fourth attack, we are not instructed or required to smite our enemies. We may be justified in doing so, but if we choose not to, we will be further rewarded for our mercy and restraint and will bring blessings upon our heads and upon the heads of our children for generations.

31 Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

verse 31 “thine enemy is in thine hands” After a fourth attack, you may continue to extend mercy, but you are not required to do so. You are justified in meting out punishment appropriate to the offense, even if means killing the offender to defend oneself or one’s family.

verses 32-38 The Lord’s law of retribution, retaliation, or revenge for nations—or the Lord’s law of war. Before going to war, the saints have the responsibility first of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and raising the ensign of peace. The law of retaliation for the nations is closely akin to that for families as explained in verses 23­31 above. It is that one nation should not proclaim war against another nation until the Lord commands them to do so, and the Lord will not issue such a command until the nation has lifted up an offer of peace not once or twice but three times. Then, after the fourth offense, the Lord will not only command them to retaliate but will assist them in their retaliation.

32 Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles.

verse 32 “this is the law I gave unto . . . all mine ancient prophets and apostles” This verse refers to only those ancient prophets and apostles who had the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ including the Book of Mormon prophets. It does not apply to the prophets between Moses and Christ in the Old World who had only the law of Moses and who therefore had a much different standard—that of lex talionis or “an eye for an eye.” Deuteronomy 20:10, for example, states that “when thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.” But this is not an offer of peace in the modern sense, and certainly not an offer of peace to foreign invaders, but is merely an offer to allow a city that Israel has attacked to surrender peacefully or be destroyed (see Deuteronomy 20:12-13). The native Canaanite peoples were not given even that choice, however (see Deuteronomy 20:16-17; 1 Nephi 17:32-35, 41). Similar examples are common between Exodus and Malachi. By comparison, the practice of the Nephites was vastly different and in accord with verses 32-37 (see Alma 48:14-16; 3 Nephi 3:20-21; Mormon 3:10-16). The Savior himself says in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lesser law of retaliation in the law of Moses and the higher requirement of the gospel: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not [the] evil [doer]: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39). So it would seem that when the Lord took the fulness of the gospel and the holy priesthood away from Israel and gave them the preparatory gospel in its place, he also allowed them to operate under a lesser law of retaliation from Moses until Christ.

33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.

34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;

35 And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;

36 Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.

37 And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.

38 Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

verse 38 “this is an ensample unto all people” Ensample is an old spelling of example. Thus, even when a nation is not led by prophets or does not worship the Lord, the principles of retaliation taught in verses 32-37 would serve as a useful and beneficial example for them to follow.

verses 39-48 These verses deal with the Lord’s law of individual forgiveness. Many people are confused by what they consider to be conflicting instructions in scripture on the topic of forgiveness. On the one hand, the Savior says to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22) and “of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:9-11). On the other hand, verses 39-48 seem to limit forgiveness to “three strikes and you’re out.”

The crucial distinction that allows us to resolve the apparent conflict is whether the offender in a given instance is repentant or not. If he or she is repentant and asks for our forgiveness, then we, as true children of a merciful Father in Heaven, must grant mercy and forgiveness even as we hope to be forgiven (see Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 17:3-4; also D&C 64:9-11 and the commentary on those verses). Even when an offender is not repentant, we are required to forgive him or her at least three times without harboring any grudge. By extension, then, if we are commanded to forgive the intentional insults of our enemies without harboring a grudge, how much more, then, should we be expected to forgive the unintentional slights or mistakes of our friends! How can there ever be grudges between brothers and sisters or between members or families in the wards and stakes of the Church?

39 And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy—

40 And so on unto the second and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven.

41 And if he trespass against thee and repent not the first time, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him.

42 And if he trespass against thee the second time, and repent not, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him.

43 And if he trespass against thee the third time, and repent not, thou shalt also forgive him.

44 But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him, but shalt bring these testimonies before the Lord; and they shall not be blotted out until he repent and reward thee four-fold in all things wherewith he has trespassed against thee.

45 And if he do this, thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold;

46 And upon his children, and upon his children’s children of all them that hate me, unto the third and fourth generation.

verse 46 “And upon his children, and upon his children’s children of all them that hate me” In the Church, we do not believe in inherited guilt, and it should be pointed out that this verse is descriptive rather than prescriptive. That is, it describes what is going to happen and not what the Lord is going to make happen. In this case, someone of such an evil character as this repeated offender is, by the natural laws of the universe, probably going to raise an equally unpleasant family who also “hate me”— referring to the Lord. Violence and other abusive behaviors are usually learned at home. Should any offspring of such a person turn to the Lord, they would be forgiven, and the chain of evil would be broken (see verses 47-48). But otherwise it will likely take generations for the sins of the fathers to become sufficiently diluted by time to cease influencing their posterity.

“unto the third and fourth generation” This phrase is only symbolic of the three or four offenses of the enemy and the three or four generations that are likely to experience the consequences.

47 But if the children shall repent, or the children’s children, and turn to the Lord their God, with all their hearts and with all their might, mind, and strength, and restore four-fold for all their trespasses wherewith they have trespassed, or wherewith their fathers have trespassed, or their fathers’ fathers, then thine indignation shall be turned away; 48 And vengeance shall no more come upon them, saith the Lord thy God, and their trespasses shall never be brought any more as a testimony before the Lord against them. Amen.

Brief Historical Setting

Section 98, along with sections 94 and 97 were taken to the saints in Missouri immediately after section 98 was received. Orson Hyde and John Gould were dispatched to deliver the revelation by horseback.

- Michael J. Preece