The Curious Case of D&C 124

I think if we wish to fully understand Joseph Smith, early Mormonism and the early saints, we have take into consideration their Millennialist worldview. The “second coming” of Jesus Christ permeates everything in early Mormonism. Joseph’s impetus to establish the New Jerusalem in Independence, MO is rooted in the expectation that Jesus would shortly return.

As I was recently rereading D&C 124 some things really stuck out to me.  I take Bart Ehrman’s advice that we need to carefully read the scriptures and really think about what we are reading.  I think we sometimes have a tendency to gloss over these things without really examining them and accept revelations from Joseph Smith simply because they come from Joseph Smith.

With the Millennialist worldview and expectation in mind, let’s take a look at the first ten verses of D&C 124, dated January 9,1841:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offering and acknowledgments, which you have made; for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.

Your prayers are acceptable before me; and in answer to them I say unto you, that you are now called immediately [January 19, 1841] to make a solemn proclamation of my gospel, and of this stake which I have planted to be a cornerstone of Zion, which shall be polished with the refinement which is after the similitude of a palace.

This proclamation shall be made to all the kings of the world, to the four corners thereof, to the honorable president-elect, and the high-minded governors of the nation in which you live, and to all the nations of the earth scattered abroad.

Let it be written in the spirit of meekness and by the power of the Holy Ghost, which shall be in you at the time of the writing of the same; For it shall be given you by the Holy Ghost to know my will concerning those kings and authorities, even what shall befall them in a time to come. For, behold, I am about to call upon them to give heed to the light and glory of Zion, for the set time has come to favor her. 

Call ye, therefore, upon them with loud proclamation, and with your testimony, fearing them not, for they are as grass, and all their glory as the flower thereof which soon falleth, that they may be left also without excuse—And that I may visit them in the day of visitation, when I shall unveil the face of my covering, to appoint the portion of the oppressor among hypocrites, where there is gnashing of teeth, if they reject my servants and my testimony which I have revealed unto them.

And again, I will visit and soften their hearts, many of them for your good, that ye may find grace in their eyes, that they may come to the light of truth, and the Gentiles to the exaltation or lifting up of Zion. For the day of my visitation cometh speedily, in an hour when ye think not of; and where shall be the safety of my people, and refuge for those who shall be left of them?

Awake, O kings of the earth! Come ye, O, come ye, with your gold and your silver, to the help of my people, to the house of the daughters of Zion.”  

Again, this is dated January 9, 1841. Three and a half years later, Joseph Smith was dead three. He never wrote the proclamation.  He did, however, delegate the responsibility some of the 12 to write this proclamation. This was an decision considering the revelation it says that the Holy Spirit would be on Joseph, not members of the 12.  

Book of Mormon Central explains:

“Two years [after 124 was given], on November 21, 1843, the prophet instructed Willard Richards, Orson Hyde, John Taylor, and William W. Phelps to write this proclamation. Unfortunately, their work was intermittent because of Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign and his assassination.  The proclamation was finally published in April 1845. It was primarily written by Elder Parley P. Pratt [not one of the original four commissioned], but formally acknowledged as a Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints.”

The proclamation reads, in part:

“Know ye :—

That the kingdom of God has come: as has been predicted by ancient prophets, and prayed for in ail ages; even that kingdom which shall fill the whole earth, and shall  stand for ever.  The great Eloheem Jehovah has been pleased once more to speak from the heavens…

And we now bear witness that his coming is near at hand;  and not many years hence, the nations and their kings shall see him coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory In order to meet this great event there must needs be a preparation…

Therefore we send unto you with authority from on high, and command you all to repent and humble yourselves as little children, before the majesty of the Holy One; and come unto Jesus with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and be baptized in his name, for the remission of sins (that is, be buried in the water in the likeness of his burial and rise again  to newness of life, in the likeness of his resurrection), and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of the hands of the Apostles and elders, of this great and last dispensation of mercy to man.  This Spirit shall bear witness to you, of the truth of our testimony; and shall enlighten your minds, and be in you as the spirit of prophecy and revelation.”

This was 175 years ago.  How many years is “not many years?”  I don’t know, but I think it’s safe to assume that the apostles expected it within their lifetime. Recall that the same Parley P. Pratt received a personal revelation from God found in D&C 34 [November 1, 1830]:

“Wherefore, lift up your voice and spare not, for the Lord God hath spoken; therefore prophesy, and it shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. And if you are faithful, behold, I am with you until I come—And verily, verily, I say unto you, I come quickly. I am your Lord and your Redeemer. Even so. Amen.”

Some key points:

  1. Joseph Smith was commanded to “immediately” make this proclamation.  He did not. It took more than two years to delegate it.
  2. In the first 10 verses we have three citations from Bible [see below]. This is very common in Joseph’s revelations. 
  3. There’s a clear anticipation of the “Second Coming” happening very soon.
  4. What does Eloheem Jehovah even mean?  Elohim is the noun [God] and Jehovah [YHWH] is God’s personal name as revealed to the Israelites. “Eloheem Jehovah” is redundant. Twelve Apostles didn’t have any better grasp on God than Joseph Smith did
  5. Did God call upon the Kings of the earth to give glory to Zion?  He said he was going to.
  6. The Apostolic Proclamation also clearly anticipates and warns of the imminence of the “Second Coming.”
  7. The Apostolic appeal to the Holy Spirit to confirm the truthfulness of their message that didn’t come true.
  8. The “set time” appointed for the glory of Zion was, apparently December, 1841. Five years later many of the Saints were leaving Nauvoo for the Great Basin.
  9. Does v. 11 imply some of God’s people will be wiped out?  “Those who shall be left of them.”

D&C 124 is often cited and quoted both in LDS and post-LDS circles. However, I don’t believe its an authentic revelation from God. Primarily because of its promotion of proxy baptism–a doctrine diametrically opposed to the Atonement of Jesus Christ–but also because of the multiple instances of prophetic declarations that didn’t come true.

   D&C 124Bible Parallel
“…and of this stake which I have planted to be a cornerstone of Zion, which shall be polished with the refinement which is after the similitude of a palace.”  

“…for they are as grass, and all their glory as the flower thereof which soon falleth, that they may be left also without excuse.”  

“…to appoint the portion of the oppressor among hypocrites, where there is gnashing of teeth.”      
“That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.” (Psalm 144:12)  

“For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. (Psalm 37:2)    

“And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24)

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