Hypertexting D&C 1, or, What Joseph Smith was Reading in October 1831

BCDC1In the first Sunday School lesson of the year we were all reminded that D&C 1 was given as a preface to the collection of revelations that the Church had amassed by November 1, 1831, in preparation for their compilation in book form. A perusal of the chronological order of contents (in the introductory material of your Doctrine and Covenants) shows that the revelations which had been received by this time were the sections we now number as 2-66. Also received that same month were Sections 1, 67-70, and 133.

As you read through “the Lord’s preface” you may notice that it has many elements in common with Isaiah 34. In the first verse of Section 1, the people of the Church, people from afar, and those upon the isles of the sea are all told to “hearken.” Isaiah 34 offers an elegant double parallelism with the same theme:

Come near, ye nations, to hear;                      and hearken, ye people:

Let the earth hear, and all that is therein;         the world, and all things that come forth of it.

Both chapters detail the judgment of the Lord which will fall upon the world immediately preceding the Second Coming. In particular, we note the image of the Lord’s sword and the use of the word “Idumea” (Edom) to designate the people of the world. D&C 1:13 repeats the words of Isaiah 34:5 as follows:

For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. (Isaiah 34:5)

And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth. (D&C 1:13)

D&C continues this thread to explain exactly why the anger of the Lord is upon the inhabitants of the earth: they have not heeded the words of the prophets, they have strayed from the ordinances, they have broken the everlasting covenant, and they have followed their own worldly understanding rather than seeking the will of the Lord. Then, in case the meaning is still not clear, the idea is rephrased, with additional words of explanation:

And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world. (D&C 1:36)

“Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read,” we are admonished in Isaiah – not one of the prophecies shall fail. D&C 1 bears witness of the same: “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.”

Indeed, the two chapters form a double witness which is quite powerful. It is reminiscent of the story in Luke of the Savior’s visit to the synagogue in Nazareth. When he stood up to read, a passage in Isaiah was given him, a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. When he finished reading, he closed the book and sat down, rather than giving an exposition of the passage as was the custom. When the attention of everyone in the synagogue had turned to him, he simply said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” I think we should get the same electric feeling that was present as Jesus spoke these words when we read D&C 1, which is telling us the same thing: that the prophecies of Isaiah are now coming to pass.

But don’t stop there, student of the D&C! Notice that Isaiah 34 and 35 are companion chapters. One tells of the destruction which will come upon those of the world in that latter day; and the next speaks of the restoration and gathering in store for the Lord’s covenant people. The wilderness shall blossom. Messiah will come and save. There will be streams of gospel knowledge in the desert. A highway, the Way of Holiness, will provide for the return of the ransomed, who will come to Zion with songs of everlasting joy.

Now turn to D&C 133, received on November 3, 1831, and included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as the “Appendix.” Here is found many of the same themes of the two Isaiah chapters, especially this:

27 And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.
28 Their enemies shall become a prey unto them,
29 And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.
30 And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.
31 And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.
32 And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim.
33 And they shall be filled with songs of everlasting joy.

What does the study of D&C 133 and Isaiah 34-35 add to our understanding of D&C 1? The similarities point to the fact that these chapters are related; and you will find more of them than I have noted here. But the differences are what will expand our understanding. For example, Section 1 speaks cursorily of the devil having power over his own dominion in verse 35. But this is greatly extended in Isaiah 34. Ambiguous and mythological creatures possess the land. These include rĕ’em,[1] qa’ath,[2] tanniyn,[3] banot ya`anah,[4] sa`iyr,[5] liyliyth,[6] and others. That so many of these are found in the same passage seems to highlight their symbolic nature, an indication that the land will be inhabited by the monstrous and the unclean. The preface to the D&C chooses not to include a detailed description of the “devil’s dominion,” but instead depicts the servants of the Lord, proclaiming the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, breaking down the mighty and strong ones, laying the foundation of the Church, and bringing it out of darkness and obscurity.

Isaiah poetically adds to our understanding the nature of the Lord’s destruction upon the earth: “fire and brimstone” and desolation. The D&C elaborates upon our responsibilities and privileges in the latter days, and emphasizes the fulfillment of that which was written by the prophets.

The Doctrine and Covenants reminds Latter-day Saints that we are in a position unlike any other people on the earth today. We are the inheritors of the promises that God made though Isaiah and the other Biblical prophets. Through us as a covenant people he is bringing these things to pass. These insights have shown me that a full appreciation of the book of scripture we are studying this year necessitates an understanding of ancient prophecies and historical events as well as nineteenth-century ones, when the book was being penned. I find it hard to believe that this will be possible while studying the D&C thematically, but I hope that teachers and students will put forth the effort required to do so.

[1] Translated in the KJV as “unicorn.” An unspecified wild animal which is now unknown.

[2] KJV “cormorant,” a ceremonially unclean bird, “perhaps extinct.”

[3] KJV “dragon,” a great serpent or sea monster.

[4] KJV “owls,” also “daughters of the ostrich,” another unclean bird which is now “perhaps extinct.”

[5] KJV “satyr,” or a demon-possessed goat.

[6] KJV “screech owl,” more literally “Lilith,” a female goddess known as a night demon who haunts the desolate places of Edom.


Hypertexting D&C 1, or, What Joseph Smith was Reading in October 1831 — 8 Comments

  1. This is really cool. Thanks! 😀

    (Also, many think the re’em might be an oryx, a type of desert antelope that could have given rise to unicorn legends.)

  2. Great post.

    A tool I find very useful in studying restoration scripture is Crudden’s Concordance, Sure, the thing is ancient, but it does help one quickly trace words and phrases back to their KJV source (which I can then compare in Hebrew, or use my Greek lexicon).

    David Bokovoy also once mentioned in a private correspondence that D&C 1 acts like Isaiah one, neither were the first revelation to that prophet, but both serve as a thematic preface to the contents of the book.

  3. Great stuff, Cheryl. William Hamblin in the Interpreter podcast made the point that 19th-century saints were high in biblical literacy, whereas our generation is lacking. Understanding the biblical references will certainly provide context.

    He also noted that in Isa. 6:9-10, the Lord curses the people with “heavy” ears and “shut” eyes “lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” In D&C 1:2, the curse is reversed:

    “For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.”

  4. Ah, Walker, I love that! The blessings of the latter day, I suppose–we are accountable for everything!

  5. Michael H., the animal/creature words in Isaiah 34 are the type of thing I love to pore over. I know a lot of Biblical commentaries try to match up the Hebrew words with actual animals–i.e. the cormorant, great heron or the wild ox–but I think in this chapter there are too many for it to be coincidental. I think they are meant to be mythical and symbolic.

  6. I really like how the D&C talks about how we failed to build Zion in Nauvoo, and that it would have to be built later once we have the priesthood necessary to do so. I wonder though, why is it that we have since failed to build a Zion community, and more than that, seemed to be more interested in building babylon (ie City Creek, banks, insurance, etc). All the while claim “all is well”? Brigham tried builidng a few united order towns, but all quickly failed, that’s really interesting. D&C 85 talks about one Mighty and Strong to come and set the house of God in order (all houses, including our own), that’s interesting. And what about the 3 Nephi 16 that talks about the gospel being given to the gentiles, those who make the numbers of the Indians thin in this land, and that it was prophesied that we’d loose the fullness of it?

  7. Some are mythical, others represent unclean animals, and still others are those which dwell in desolation. The entire topic of wildlife in the Bible is fascinating. I had a lot of teachers in school in Israel who’d debate the various identifications.

  8. I really like that expansion of D&C 1:35 (i.e., the devil’s dominion) in Isaiah 34:4-10. Note especially Isaiah 34 verses 9 and 10:

    “The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”

    Wow. This reminds me of Tolkien’s description of the Land of Mordor!