Sunday, June 6, 2021

May 31-Jun 6: D&C 60-62

These sections give insights into how to follow the directions of the Lord even in difficult circumstances. The Lord also explains that we are responsible to use our own best judgment as we seek to do what is right.

The history and context of these revelations is also relevant to our understanding of the Book of Mormon, as we'll discuss below.

Section 60 was given on August 8, 1831, to those who wanted to know what the Lord wanted them to do once they arrived in Independence. 

Remember that in June, in Kirtland, the Lord had instructed them about their journey to Independence.

D&C 52:9 And let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith.

10 Let them go two by two, and thus let them preach by the way in every congregation, baptizing by water, and the laying on of the hands by the water’s side.

In Section 60, the Lord explained that he was pleased they had come to Independence, but "with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but the hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man."  (verse 2)

Verse 3 sets out what I refer to as the rule of Alma 12:9; i.e., we receive knowledge according to how much heed and diligence we give to what we're given, and we gain more when we accept new knowledge and lose what we have when we harden our hearts.

And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have. (Doctrine and Covenants 60:3)

The same principle is found in other passages, such as 2 Nephi 28:30, and in Matthew, Mark and Luke: For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath (Matthew 13:12) and For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. (Matthew 25:29)

Starting in verse 5, the Lord gives instructions about how to travel back to Kirtland. Review the map again to see where these events took place. (click to enlarge)

I've bolded some of the key points.

5 But, verily, I will speak unto you concerning your journey unto the land from whence you came. Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis.

This passage illustrates that some things "mattereth not" unto the Lord. He left it up to the people involved to use their own judgment about how to travel, but he gave them the destination and the urgency. 

It's interesting that the Lord did not just say "take your journey speedily for St. Louis," the way most of us would say it. The phrase "which is called" is used 27 times in the Bible and 10 times in the Latter-day scriptures. This is an example of how the commandments were given "after the manner of their language" (D&C 1:24), which, in Joseph's case, was rich in biblical phrasing, both in these revelations and in his translation of the plates. E.g., "they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla." Omni 1:13.   

6 And from thence let my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, take their journey for Cincinnati

Cincinnati is the site of an important Hopewell fort called Miami Fort on a high bank at the convergence of the Ohio and the Great Miami River, forming a triangle at the top. The location is called Shawnee Lookout, high above the rivers. When I visited the site I took this photo of the Ohio River.

I also noticed that a golf course there had a museum of Hopewell artifacts found in the area that is well worth seeing if you visit the area. Actually, the golf course closed in 2019 and I don't know what happened to the artifacts, but I have photos of them. Here's one photo I took of a copper breastplate.

Miami Fort has the double wall system typical of Hopewell defensive positions. Archaeologists note that the people lived in the valleys below. Most of them say these locations were for "ceremonial purposes," but they don't explain why the Native Americans built a system of double walls which, combined with the steep cliffs on both sides, made the area easy to defend. In other words, these were "places of resort" (Alma 48:5, 8, 52:6).

The double wall, steep cliffs, and triangular shape is identical in design to the Indian Point fort near Kirtland, which is also found at the convergence of two rivers. Anyone who visits Kirtland needs to see this site. 

The historical marker explains that the walls of the Indian Point site were built around 140 BC, just when we would expect from the Book of Mormon.

That might seem like a digression but it's not really because as we'll see in upcoming Come Follow Me lessons, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries were frequently encountering the mounds of the Nephites in these areas.

Sections 61-2 were given along the Missouri River, as the wonderful painting that illustrates this lesson depicts. 

The journey from Kirtland to Independence and back again was not easy. We see on the map in the Joseph Smith papers (below, click to enlarge) that the Saints traveled by land to get from St. Louis to Independence, despite traveling by river from Cincinnati to St. Louis.

That may seem surprising. We normally think of rivers as the easiest way to travel in the days before highways and motorized vehicles, but the Missouri River was treacherous for ships. A museum in Kansas City explains that "The most treacherous of the many hazards were fallen trees lying hidden from sight just under the river’s surface. These “snags” crippled and sank hundreds of steamboats from the 1820s to the 1870s."

During the 1850s and 1860s, many Latter-day Saints emigrating from England to Utah arrived in St. Louis and took steamboats up the Missouri River before joining wagon trains and handcart companies. One of these, the Steamboat Arabia, took many Latter-day Saints before it struck a snag and sunk in 1856.

Everyone escaped before the boat sank, but the entire cargo was lost. In the ensuring years, the boat was covered with silt and the river changed course. Some adventurers sought to recover the cargo. They searched the river without success until a local farmer told them he'd heard the boat was buried under his farm, half a mile away from the current course of the river. It turned out, the legend was correct: the boat was covered by 45 feet of farmland. In 1988, the boat was excavated.

Now the artifacts are on display at the museum. The web page is The museum also has a display about the Mormon immigration to Utah.

With this context, let's look at D&C 61:4-6.

4 Nevertheless, I suffered it that ye might bear record; behold, there are many dangers upon the waters, and more especially hereafter;
5 For I, the Lord, have decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters; yea, and especially upon these waters.
6 Nevertheless, all flesh is in mine hand, and he that is faithful among you shall not perish by the waters.

The Steamboat Arabia was only one of about 400 steamboats that sunk on the Missouri River. These boats carried as much as 200 tons of food, liquor, weapons, equipment, clothing, tools and other supplies. Much of this cargo would be useful for good purposes, but much of it could be used for evil purposes. Perhaps that's what the Lord was referring to in these verses. 

14 Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters.
15 Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.
16 And it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters, but he that is upright in heart.
17 And, as I, the Lord, in the beginning cursed the land, even so in the last days have I blessed it, in its time, for the use of my saints, that they may partake the fatness thereof.
18 And now I give unto you a commandment that what I say unto one I say unto all, that you shall forewarn your brethren concerning these waters, that they come not in journeying upon them, lest their faith fail and they are caught in snares;
(Doctrine and Covenants 61:14–18)

In this case, the boats on the Missouri River were caught in literal snares.

These passages are also interesting to consider in light of Helaman 3. In the days of the Nephites, the waters were not cursed.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.
11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. [Note: not stone and cement. The Hopewell constructed homes using wood and cement. Reconstructions of this technique are found in several museums in the Midwestern U.S.]

14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.
(Helaman 3:10–14)

Regarding the curse on the waters, the lesson manual points out:

Are all waters cursed by the Lord?

The Lord’s warning in Doctrine and Covenants 61 was, in part, a warning about the dangers His people could face while traveling to Zion on the Missouri River, which was known at that time for being dangerous. This warning should not be interpreted to mean that we should avoid traveling by water. The Lord has “all power,” including power over the waters (verse 1).

The lesson summarizes Section 62 with good questions we can each ask ourselves.

The Lord wants me to make some decisions “as seemeth [me] good.”

Sometimes the Lord gives us specific direction, and other matters He leaves up to us to decide. How do you see this principle illustrated in Doctrine and Covenants 62? (see also Doctrine and Covenants 60:561:22). How have you seen this principle in your life? Why is it good for us to make some decisions without specific direction from God?

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