October 18–24. Doctrine and Covenants 121–123: “O God, Where Art Thou?”
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“October 18–24. Doctrine and Covenants 121–123: ‘O God, Where Art Thou?’” Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 2021 (2020)

“October 18–24. Doctrine and Covenants 121–123,” Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: 2021

Liberty Jail, 1839

Liberty Jail Spring, by Al Rounds

October 18–24

Doctrine and Covenants 121–123

“O God, Where Art Thou?”

Your experience studying the scriptures will be richer if your goal is to uncover truth. Begin with a prayer, listen to the Spirit, and record your impressions.

Record Your Impressions

The bottom level of the county jail in Liberty, Missouri, was known as the dungeon. The walls were thick, the stone floor was cold and filthy, the food—what there was of it—was rotten, and the only light came from two narrow, iron-barred windows near the ceiling. This dungeon is where Joseph Smith and a few of his brethren spent most of their imprisonment—four frigid months during the winter of 1838–39—awaiting trial for charges of treason against the state of Missouri. During this time, Joseph was constantly receiving news about the suffering of the Saints. The peace and optimism of Far West had lasted only a few months, and now the Saints were homeless once again, driven into the wilderness in search of yet another place to start over—this time with their Prophet in prison.

No wonder Joseph Smith cried out, “O God, where art thou?” The answers he received, the “knowledge from heaven” that came “pouring down” in that miserable jail, demonstrate that although it may not always feel like it, God is never far away. No power can “stay the heavens,” the Prophet learned. “God shall be with [His faithful Saints] forever and ever.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1, 33; 122:9.)

See Saints, 1:323–96; “Within the Walls of Liberty Jail,” Revelations in Context, 256–63.

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Ideas for Personal Scripture Study

Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–10, 23–33122

Adversity can “be for [my] good.”

When we or those we love are in the midst of suffering, it is normal to wonder if God is aware of us. As you read Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–6, think about times when you have had questions or feelings similar to Joseph Smith’s. What do you find in the Lord’s response that might help you when you have those questions or feelings? For example, in verses 7–10, 26–33, notice the blessings He promises to those who “endure [affliction] well.” As you read section 122, consider how the Lord wants you to view your adversities.

See also Henry B. Eyring, “Where Is the Pavilion?Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 72–75.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46

We can access the “powers of heaven.”

In what seemed like a powerless condition in Liberty Jail, Joseph was given revelation about power—not the political or military power that had been exerted over the Saints but “the powers of heaven.” As you read Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46, what do you learn about God’s power? How is it different from worldly power? For example, look at the words the Lord uses in verses 41–43 to describe “power or influence.” What do they teach about how God maintains His “power or influence”? Perhaps these verses could inspire you to ponder your life and what you can do to be an influence for good in your relationships with others.

Doctrine and Covenants 122

Jesus Christ has descended below all things.

Joseph Smith had been unjustly imprisoned for over four months while his friends and family were driven from their homes. The work he had dedicated his life to appeared to be in ruins. What do you learn about Jesus Christ from His words to Joseph in section 122? What do you learn about Joseph? What do you learn about yourself?

See also Alma 7:11–13; 36:3; Doctrine and Covenants 88:6.

Not My Will but Thine

Jesus understands our suffering. Not My Will, But Thine, by Walter Rane

Doctrine and Covenants 123

“Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power.”

In March 1839, it may have seemed that there wasn’t much the Saints could do to change their harrowing situation. But in his letters written from Liberty Jail, Joseph told them what they could do: “[gather] up a knowledge of all the facts” and “stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:1, 17). As you consider the deception and “craftiness of men” in the world today, think about what things “lie in [your] power” to do (verses 12, 17). Why is it important to do these things “cheerfully”? (verse 17). Who do you know who is “kept from the truth” (verse 12), and how can you help this person to find it?

Many of the accounts that Joseph asked for in this letter were submitted to the government and published as an 11-part series in a Nauvoo newspaper, the Times and Seasons (see “A History, of the Persecution, of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints in Missouri, December 1839–October 1840,” [josephsmithpapers.org]).

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Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening

Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–10.

The “dungeon” in Liberty Jail was only 14 by 14.5 feet (4.2 by 4.4 meters). How can you help your family imagine what it would have been like to be confined to a space of that size for four cold months? You can find other details about the conditions in Liberty Jail in “Chapter 46: Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail” (Doctrine and Covenants Stories, 172–74). You could also read “Voices of the Restoration: Liberty Jail” at the end of this outline or watch a video depiction of Joseph’s time in Liberty Jail in the video Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (ChurchofJesusChrist.org, beginning at 43:00). How does this information affect how we feel about the principles in Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–10?

Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–36, 41–45.

Perhaps an analogy would help your family understand “the powers of heaven.” For example, you could compare God’s power to electrical power; what might prevent an electrical device from receiving power? What does this analogy, along with verses 34–36, 41–45, teach us about how to increase our spiritual power? Maybe family members could share stories from the Savior’s life that exemplify these attributes.

Doctrine and Covenants 122:7–9.

Perhaps family members would enjoy making small signs that feature phrases from these verses that inspire them. These signs could be displayed in your home. Why is it important to know that “the Son of Man hath descended below” all things?

Doctrine and Covenants 123:12.

How can we help people “know … where to find” the truth?

For more ideas for teaching children, see this week’s outline in Come, Follow Me—For Primary.

Suggested song: “Where Can I Turn for Peace?Hymns, no. 129.

Angel Moroni

Voices of the Restoration

Liberty Jail

While imprisoned in Liberty, Missouri, Joseph Smith received letters informing him about the perilous situation of the Latter-day Saints who were being driven from the state by the order of the governor. A poignant letter came from his wife Emma. Her words, and Joseph’s letters in response, express both their sufferings and their faith during this difficult time in Church history.

Letter from Emma Smith to Joseph Smith, March 7, 1839

“Dear Husband

“Having an opportunity to send by a friend, I make an attempt to write, but I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are, the walls, bars, and bolts, rolling rivers, running streams, rising hills, sinking valleys and spreading prairies that separate us, and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, with many other considerations, places my feelings far beyond description.

“Was it not for conscious innocence, and the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through … ; but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind Heaven that I should for your sake.

“We are all well at present, except Fredrick who is quite sick.

“Little Alexander who is now in my arms is one of the finest little fellows you ever saw in your life. He is so strong that with the assistance of a chair he will run all round the room. …

“No one but God knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little Children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in that lonesome prison. But the recollection is more than human nature ought to bear. …

“… I hope there are better days to come to us yet. … [I] am ever yours affectionately.

“Emma Smith”1

Letter from Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, April 4, 1839

“Dear—and affectionate—Wife.

“Thursday night I sat down just as the sun is going down, as we peek through the grates of this lonesome prison, to write to you, that I may make known to you my situation. It is I believe now about five months and six days2 since I have been under the grimace of a guard night and day, and within the walls, grates, and screeking iron doors of a lonesome, dark, dirty prison. With emotions known only to God do I write this letter. The contemplations of the mind under these circumstances defies the pen, or tongue, or Angels, to describe, or paint, to the human being who never experienced what we experience. … We lean on the arm of Jehovah, and none else, for our deliverance, and if he doesn’t do it, it will not be done, you may be assured, for there is great thirsting for our blood in this state; not because we are guilty of anything. … My Dear Emma I think of you and the children continually. … I want to see little Frederick, Joseph, Julia, Alexander, Joana, and old major [the family dog]. … I would gladly walk from here to you barefoot, and bareheaded, and half naked, to see you and think it great pleasure, and never count it toil. … I bear with fortitude all my oppression, so do those that are with me; not one of us have flinched yet. I want you [to] not let [our children] forget me. Tell them Father loves them with a perfect love, and he is doing all he can to get away from the mob to come to them. … Tell them Father says they must be good children, and mind their mother. …

“Yours,

“Joseph Smith Jr.”3

Notes

  1. Letter from Emma Smith, 7 March 1839,” Letterbook 2, 37, josephsmithpapers.org; spelling, punctuation, and grammar modernized.

  2. Joseph and his companions were arrested on October 31, 1838, and kept under heavy guard day and night. After a preliminary trial in Richmond, Missouri, they were taken to Liberty Jail on December 1.

  3. Letter to Emma Smith, 4 April 1839,” 1–3, josephsmithpapers.org; spelling, punctuation, and grammar modernized.

Liberty Jail

While Joseph Smith suffered in Liberty Jail, the Lord comforted him and revealed great truths.