Historical Context and Background of D&C 101

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

On December 10, 1833, the morning mail brought Joseph Smith “the melancholy intelligence” that the Saints in Missouri were being exiled from the promised land.1 He had already learned that leading citizens had mobbed the Saints, destroyed their press, and forced on them an ultimatum to leave the county. Joseph hoped, however, that the rule of law would prevail, that the Saints could get redress for the illegal acts against them, and that they would not have to leave the land they had legally purchased and occupied. The letter disappointed that hope.

The news depressed and bewildered Joseph. Why had the Lord let the Saints be driven from the promised land? Would they return? If so, how? It was the Lord who had told Joseph to consecrate Independence, Missouri, as Zion, a refuge and gathering place for the Saints. “Therefore I ask thee,” Joseph prayed, “in the name of Jesus Christ, to return thy people unto their homes . . . [and] that all the enemies of thy people, who will not repent and return unto thee be destroyed from off the face of that Land.”2 Section 101 came a week later to answer these questions and Joseph’s prayer, though not as he had hoped.

The Lord explains that he will let the Saints be tried and chastened even as much as Abraham was if it will lead to their sanctification. They must choose to stop being contentious, jealous, covetous, and lustful or there will be no Zion even if he rescues them. Then he promises emphatically that he will rescue them. “Notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy” (D&C 101:9).

Just a week earlier, Joseph felt like murmuring because “those who are innocent are compelled to suffer for the iniquities of the guilty; and I cannot account for this.”3 The Lord acknowledges the injustice in verse 41 and has his own “wisdom” in allowing it. From the Lord’s perspective, a potent dose of “trouble” can be useful. For when the Saints were well and good, they treated lightly the revelations to gather, to consecrate, to buy land and to build a temple. Now all of a sudden they “of necessity feel after me,” the Lord says (D&C 101:8).

Section 101 reaffirms that Zion will be established despite the Saints being driven. It prophesies the millennial day, when the pure in heart will inherit Zion, enmity will cease, Satan will be rendered powerless, the Lord will reveal all things, and death, like sorrow, will depart. With that perspective, the faithful, persecuted Saints can afford to “fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full” (D&C 101:36).

Beginning in verse 43, the Lord relates a parable to explain his will concerning how to get Zion back. It implies that the unfaithful Saints in Zion were bad stewards. Rather than building the temple as commanded, they second-guessed the Lord, used his money selfishly, and opened themselves to attacks that could have been prevented by obedience. “Ought ye not to have done even as I commanded you?” the nobleman of the parable asks the disobedient servants (D&C 101:53).

The nobleman’s plans for reclaiming his vineyard from enemies includes gathering an army of his servants, “the strength of mine house,” to go to battle (D&C 101:55–58). The nobleman promises to redeem his overrun vineyard and the servants ask when. “When I will,” comes the answer; “go ye straightway, and do all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (v. 60). The servants go and do as the nobleman commanded, “and after many days all things were fulfilled” (v. 62).

Immediately following the parable, the Lord resumes as if he were the nobleman commanding his servants what to do, or, in the words of verse 43, “my will concerning

the redemption of Zion.” He commands the Saints to obey sections 57, 63, and 86—that is, to continue the work of gathering by preaching the gospel, gaining converts, and gathering together to pool resources so they can systematically (not hastily or haphazardly) purchase land and build Zion legally. The Lord calls for wise men to be sent to purchase the lands, buy out the settlers of Jackson County, satisfy them for their land and resolve the controversies between them (D&C 101:73). There is no shortage of money among the Saints in the eastern branches, the Lord says. They have enough to buy the land if they are willing to consecrate it for Zion (v. 75).

In verse 76 the Lord calls for the Saints to continue to appeal to government for redress of their civil and property rights, like the biblical parable of the unjust judge who finally relented to an insistent woman’s pleas for justice. Similarly, the Saints are to petition for justice at the feet of every government official, including the president. “And if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place; and in his fury vex the nation” (D&C 101:89). The Saints are to pray for their government officials to be responsive and therefore escape the Lord’s vengeance.

The revelation closes with a command that the Saints not sell the storehouse nor any of the land they legally own. Though driven unjustly, they must not relent to their oppressors. They must not sell the promised land.

Section 101 explains why Zion was postponed. God could stop every mobbing and prevent every Saint from being lustful, covetous, and contentious. He chooses instead to put agency in his individual children. He gives them power to act and commandments to act upon. When they (or some of them) act disobediently to His commands, the blessings promised for obedience are not forthcoming. That’s how some of the Saints—and their enemies—postponed Zion. It is our fault, not God’s, that there is still no holy city in Jackson County, Missouri.

Section 101 promises an ultimate redemption of Zion, though its timing is dependent on the Saints’ decisions. In several places the Lord guarantees that Zion will come. In just as many he speaks ambiguously about when. When depends on what the Saints decide to do with the Lord’s commandments.

1. “Letterbook 1,” 70, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 11, 2020.

2. Joseph Smith, Kirtland, Ohio, to Edward Partridge, William W. Phelps, John Whitmer, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, John Corrill, Isaac Morley and all Saints, Independence, Missouri, 10 December1833, in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, 70–75, in hand of Frederick G. Williams, CHL.

3. “Letterbook 1,” 72, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 11, 2020.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

After the attack on the Church printing press and the tarring and feathering of Edward Partridge and Charles Allen in July 1833, Church leaders in Missouri signed a tentative agreement to leave Jackson County. The leaders of the Church agreed to leave in two different phases: the first group was to leave in January 1834, and the second in April 1834. When Joseph Smith heard about the mobbing, he counseled the Saints “that not one foot of land purchased should be given to the enemies of God or sold to them.”1 Church leaders in Missouri sought legal recourse to gain back their rights and their property. They appealed to Daniel Dunklin, the governor of Missouri, for protection against their persecutors. The Missouri Saints also sought out legal representation to assist them as they worked to obtain justice in local courts. When mob members in Jackson County became aware that the Saints were seeking legal solutions to their problems, they became incensed and launched a new series of attacks on the Saints that began on October 31, 1833. In the midst of this conflict, Lieutenant Governor Lilburn Boggs called out the militia to disarm both sides in the fighting. However, Parley P. Pratt noted that “among this militia (so called,) were embodied the most conspicuous characters of the mob,” and only the Saints were forced to give up their weapons. With no choice but to surrender, the Saints began preparing to leave the county in the worsening conditions of the coming winter.2

On November 25, 1833, Joseph Smith heard of the renewed mob attacks from Orson Hyde and John Gould, two elders who had been dispatched from Kirtland the previous August to see how to assist the Saints in Missouri.3 Upon hearing the sufferings of the Saints in Missouri, Church leaders in Kirtland were overwhelmed with sorrow. Lucy Mack Smith remembered that “upon hearing this [news], Joseph was overwhelmed with grief; he burst into tears, and sobbed aloud: ‘Oh my brethren! my brethren!’ he exclaimed[,] would that I had been with you to have shared your fate—Oh my God, what shall I do in such a trial as this.”4 Oliver Cowdery was also overwhelmed upon hearing the news. His wife, Elizabeth, was still in Missouri, and Oliver did not know if she was alive or dead. He penned an emotional letter to her, though he did not know her location, writing, “God only knows the feelings of my heart as I address a few lines to you . . . My prayers ascend daily and hourly to God that you and I may be spared, and yet enjoy each other’s society in this life, in peace.”5

In response to the plight of the Saints, the Prophet wrote an emotional letter to Edward Partridge and other Church leaders in Jackson County. He wrote, “I cannot learn from any communication by the spirit to me that Zion has forfeited her claim to a celestial crown notwithstanding the Lord has caused her to be thus afflicted.” He added, “Now there are two things of which I am ignorant and the Lord will not show me—perhaps for a wise purpose in himself. I mean in some respect, and they are these, Why God hath suffered so great calamity to come upon Zion; or what the great moving cause of this great affliction is, and again by what means he will return her back to her inheritance with songs of everlasting joy upon her head.”6

A few days later, the revelation in section 101 came in response to the pleadings of Church leaders in Kirtland. We know little about the precise circumstances under which the revelation was given. Ira Ames, a Church member living in Kirtland at the time, later said that the revelation came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery over the course of one night. According to Ames, Ames and Martin Harris came to Joseph’s home in Kirtland and found Joseph and Oliver eating breakfast. Oliver greeted the pair by saying, “Good morning Brethren, we have just received news from heaven.”7 Ames did not give the precise date that this encounter took place, but when the revelation was copied by John Whitmer into Revelation Book 1, Whitmer dated it as December 16–17, 1833.8 The revelation provides some firm answers regarding why the persecutions in Jackson County were taking place and what course of action the Saints in Kirtland should take.

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 16–17 December 1833 [D&C 101]

1. Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson County, Missouri, 18 August 1833, p. 3, JSP.

2. Parley P. Pratt et al., “‘The Mormons’ So Called,” 12 December 1833, p. 2, JSP.

3. JS History, vol. A-1, p. 344, JSP.

4. Lucy Mack Smith History, 1845, p. 221, JSP.

5. Quoted in Milton V. Backman, The Heavens Resound, 1983, 167.

6. Letter to Edward Partridge and Others, 10 December 1833, pp. 71–72, JSP.

7. Ira Ames, Autobiography and Journal, 1858, CHL MS 6055, Church History Library; cited in “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 16–17 December 1834 [D&C 101], JSP.

8. Revelation Book 1, p. 183, JSP.