Feast upon the Word Blog

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The “Law” of D&C 132

Posted by Karen on May 29, 2013

After studying some references to the Abrahamic Covenant, things jumped out at me in D&C 132 that never had before. It made me see D&C 132 in a different light. Here are some thoughts on the first half of D&C 132.

D&C 132 is often known as the “revelation on marriage” or even the “revelation on polygamy.” While those topics are addressed, I want to point out that the revelation is actually not primarily about those topics.

The opening verses do make it clear that this is in response to a question Joseph Smith had about why Abraham had lots of wives. (The tenor of his question seems like it must have been, “Why in the world would that be allowed?” The Book of Mormon talked about that in a negative way in Jacob 2, especially in verse 24.) I think the section does address his question, and also Jacob 2, very well, but the main lesson of D&C 132 is something broader than polygamy.

To explain what I mean, first look at verse 7. Here God outlines a “law” he wants Joseph Smith to understand and enter into:

And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

So forget for a moment that you have ever been taught that D&C 132 is about marriage, and try reading this verse. All it says is: everything that constitutes a connection on earth will mean nothing in the eternities; everything that is sealed by the priesthood will remain in the eternities. That’s it.

Jump with me, just briefly, to other places in scripture that talk about something similar. D&C 128:9 says,

It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?

He goes on in verse 10 to quote Matthew 16:18-19 where Peter is given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” and told that “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

God says something similar to Nephi in Helaman 10,

Behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.

Both of these passages of scripture talk about a person being given the power to seal something on earth and it is sealed in heaven. D&C 132:7 is teaching that anything not sealed up by this power will not endure into the eternities. God chooses to give that sealing power to someone who has come to the point where that person won’t ask anything in prayer that God won’t want to give, so He can simply trust that person to ask or say what needs to be done and it will happen. That person becomes in the greatest sense God’s servant on earth; they become a team with God.

In D&C 132:7, we learn that Joseph Smith had this power too. Following this verse, verses 9 and 10 use language alluding to the story of Cain to warn that this power needs to be used appropriately:

Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?

Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?

Having this power, or knowing that someone has this power, does not mean someone can seal up or ask someone to seal up just anything. It is a power given to someone on earth to do God’s work, not ours.

I like the allusion to the Cain and Abel story. What was Cain’s first problem? He knew what offering God expected, but he listened to Satan and tried to offer something different. When God disapproved, he was angry and used that to justify more sin. But it started with Cain knowing what God had appointed, and trying to go around that and do things his own way. (See Moses 5:5 and 18-28.) That story sets up a context for understanding the serious situation of someone with the sealing power: this power has to be used in whatever way God appoints. Humans can’t try to seal something not appointed; also, humans can’t avoid sealing something God wants sealed because of some private reasoning. This power has to be held by someone whose heart is pure and who God can trust completely.

As I continue to discuss D&C 132, keep the basic ideas in verses 7, 9, and 10 in mind.

Now we will begin to see how God answers Joseph Smith’s question on Abraham. He starts by explaining marriage generally. Verse 15 says:

Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.

Notice how the verse starts: “Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world….” It starts with a therefore, and so has to be read in the context of verses 1-14. Marriage is being used, at least here, as an example of the law in verse 7. Marriage, like other things, has to be done by God’s sealing power or else it, like everything else, will be of “no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.” That is an important point in and of itself, but it will also serve to help explain Joseph’s larger question later on.

(A brief tangent on verse 17. It says, “For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly.” When we read this in light of verses 1-14, maybe we could assume that these angels are those who had entered into “the law” – fully covenanting to have sealed whatever God appointed to them – and after that chose to withdraw their marriages from the priesthood for some private reason. It’s not simply that some people have marriages in the temple and some don’t; there is repentance on the other side of the veil and work for the dead performed here. I think this must be something stronger that just that. So I wonder if this verse is talking about people who went outside some specific appointment to them from God [see verses 9-10] and therefore aren’t trusted with the power that godhood would entail. Perhaps it’s one reading of the text, anyway.)

D&C 132:19, referring to some who do live and marry according to the law, adds this at the end of the verse:

and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

I think part of what is being said here is that we’re not just sealing marriages so that they last forever. God wants to make sure that children and “a continuation of the seeds” last forever. If no one on earth were ever to have a marriage sealed, would the work of the heavens cease? So it appears from this verse, at least! This is another step toward answering Joseph Smith’s question.

So now finally to Abraham’s story, starting in verse 29:

Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.

The first point is that Abraham received all things (and wives are included and implied here) by commandment, and therefore was not condemned. In other words, Abraham was one of those people who followed the order of “the law” laid out in the beginning verses of this section.

Verse 30:

Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.

Abraham also received certain, special promises regarding his seed. Adam and some of his descendants had been promised that their seed would be a chosen line, never to die out until the end of the world. Abraham’s promise was similar, but it was also expanded to include more than one specific chosen line. He would have seed “as innumerable as the stars.” Verse 30 explains that promise was being fulfilled in part by Joseph Smith. We are also part of that fulfillment too, since anyone who receives the gospel is “accounted [his] seed.” (See Abraham 2:8-11.)

But, verse 30 also points out that Abraham’s promise wasn’t just about his earthly posterity. His family was to continue “both in the world and out of the world.” So Abraham needed not only to have children and posterity here, on earth, but also children in the eternitiesThat, of course, requires the sealing power we’ve been discussing.

Because Abraham was promised innumerable seed both in and out of this world, Abraham needed a marriage sealed for both in and out of this world. And for Abraham, God also fulfilled that promise by giving him more than one wife. Note, before we go further, that before Abraham received his covenant promise of innumerable seed, he had to first receive the “law” we’ve been discussing. He was one who lived in such a way that he did everything God commanded, and God could trust him. (Verses 31-33 clarify that “the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself…. if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.”)

So now to verses 34-35:

God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.

Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.

What was “the law”? I assume it’s the same law discussed in verses 1-14, part of which is to obey whatever God appoints. Sarah, as well as Abraham, lived “the law” and obeyed what God asked her to do. That’s a high compliment to Sarah.

I really like the words: “This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” Hagar’s children gave Abraham seed; they were the beginning the fulfilling of Abraham’s promises. (Which seems to accord with Jacob’s discussion in Jacob 2:30.)

It appears also that taking on another wife was not something Abraham could have done on his own, and that it happened only because God commanded it. I think it is implied that if Abraham had tried to do this without being commanded, he would have been under condemnation. This is what the Nephites in Jacob’s time completely misunderstood. They tried to “excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.” They seemed to think that this was okay simply because someone in scripture had done this before them.

Consider carefully the comparison in the next verse (verse 36):

Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.

This is a very stark comparison. Can we say that polygamy should feel as foreign as the idea of killing one’s own son? That taking another wife is also against the commandments, just like “Thou shalt not kill”? I’m not positive, but so it appears from this verse. And this also seems to be the point of Jacob 2:29-30. The point generally here, however, is clear: in every case imaginable, whatever the commandment is, obeying God always trumps commandments. Whatever God appoints, that is what is acceptable. That is the overall answer, I think, to Joseph Smith’s initial question.

Verse 37 clarifies this further:

As Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “did none other things than that which they were commanded.” I think that is referring to all cases – including but not limited to their marriages. They kept the law and therefore they certainly were not condemned for having several wives, and even have entered into their exaltation.

Now, the counter example of David starting in verse 38:

“David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord.

David, and others, didn’t sin when they had more than one wife, “save in those things which they received not of me.” Note that David’s primary sin, as outlined here, is not that he killed Uriah. It was that he took a wife that wasn’t given to him. David had had many wives sealed to him by prophets, but not “in the case of Uriah and his wife.” He knew the law outlined in verse 7, he had received many wives through that law, but in this case he chose to go outside of that law. Like Cain, he offered up an offering that was different than what he knew God had commanded. (And interestingly, like Cain, he followed that decision with a murder.) “Therefore” David has “fallen from his exaltation.”

From all of this, I think it’s clear that D&C 132 is, primarily, a discussion of “the law” of verse 7 and the “sealing power.” Marriage is one of the bonds we have been asked to seal up for eternity. But can we wrap our brains around that, or even really be worthy to receive in the fullest sense, unless we understand and reconcile ourselves to the law outlined in verse 7? Are our hearts such that all we really care about are things that can be sealed up for the eternities? Could we someday be trusted to live in such a way that we would only ask for whatever God would be okay to grant? And to do whatever He commands? Can I live as purely as Sarah and Abraham did?

And perhaps also, we can take from D&C 132 that when a marriage is sealed here on earth, it’s not just about sealing that one person to her or his spouse. It is, “among other things,” fulfilling the promise to Abraham that he would have innumerable seed in and out of the world. What all that entails, I’m still learning, but it’s something I find glorious nonetheless.

6 Responses to “The “Law” of D&C 132”

  1. boulware1005 said

    I got a “404” error message when trying to “Read more of this post”

    ________________________________

    • Karen said

      Hi, I assume that problem has been fixed? The post was originally accidentally published before I was finished writing it, and was unpublished within minutes. I assume you clicked on “read more of this post” as I was unpublishing it. If you still are experiencing problems let me know. Thanks!

  2. Kim Berkey said

    Beautiful, Karen. Thank you!

  3. J. Stapley said

    Karen, I think that part of the difficulty in reading 132 is that the cosmology that it is describing (what I have been calling the “cosmological priesthood”) isn’t really evident from the modern perspective. This revelation along with the July 27, 1842, require that cosmology to make much sense (I actually prefer the earlier revelation as it doesn’t have as much baggage). It appears to me that you are drawing some accurate conclusions relating to that cosmology (e.g., heaven requires a lot more sealings than husband-wife).

    • Karen said

      Thanks for your comment! I would like to know more of what you mean by the “cosmological priesthood,” etc. I decided to do a quick search and found some things you wrote at another blog, so I’ll start there.

  4. Robert C. said

    Very nice post, Karen.

    I esp. like how you draw out the significance of Cain and Abel (esp. D&C 132:10) and suggest that polygamy can’t be properly understood apart from this key idea (ignoring this issue is very common in most discussions of polygamy, in my experience).

    Somewhat more tangential, your post has me thinking about our modern allergy to authority and notions of obedience (cf. D&C 132:3, “prepare thy heart to receive and obey”). The etymology of “obey” is related to both hearing and bowing, terms that I think are rich to contemplate in light of prevalent attitudes regarding relationships, sexuality, freedom, etc.

    If the basis of relationships is understood in terms of hearing or bowing to a will beyond one’s own natural desires (e.g., God’s will, a wife’s will, or a child’s will), then many of the tensions and challenges we so frequently encounter take on a very different hue than our default tendency to think of, say, fairness in relationships as a balancing of interests of competing wills. If wills and interests are themselves understood as malleable and subject to change(/redemption), our understanding of the nature of most conflicts we encounter in life is rather radically altered….

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