“I, the Lord, Have Decreed in Mine Anger Many Destructions upon the Waters”

Doctrine and Covenants 61:5–6, 14–18

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. . . .
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 . . .

Elder Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjödahl wrote:

“On the 8th of August, 1831, the Lord in a revelation [D&C 60] directed the Prophet Joseph and his companions to return to Kirtland by way of St. Louis. The following day the Prophet, in company with ten elders, left Independence in canoes and proceeded down the [Missouri] [R]iver. The journey was uneventful, until the third day, when the dangers of river-navigation became manifest. The travelers had landed at . . . McIlwaine’s Bend, where they encamped on the bank of the river. While here William W. Phelps had a vision in which he saw ‘the destroyer’ riding upon the face of the waters. Some of the elders heard a noise, though they did not see anything.

“The ‘destroyer’ seen by William W. Phelps in a vision, was, in all probability, the evil one himself, ‘the prince of the power of the air’ [Ephesians 2:2].

“The brethren retired that evening, we may feel sure, with peculiar feelings. Their gratitude for the escape from the dangers of the river must have been mixed with misgivings and anxiety for the Saints who were preparing for emigration to the promised land. In the morning [on August 12, 1831,] they received this revelation [D&C 61]. . . .

“It appears . . . that some of the elders, in their conduct, had displeased the Lord [see D&C 61:20]. Possibly, they had refused to go any farther on the river, although their instruction was to go as far as St. Louis. Possibly, as soon as they encountered a little danger, they were seized with fear and insisted upon landing. But the vision of the destroyer seems to have had the effect of making them humble; they had sought the Lord and obtained forgiveness.

“. . . The Lord released them from the obligation to travel by the more speedy river route, and permitted them to travel more slowly and preach the gospel as they went along. . . .

“. . . God commanded the elders to travel on the river, in order that they might benefit others by bearing record of their experience.

“. . . Destruction had been decreed upon these rivers, and the Saints were to be warned.

“Destructive tornadoes have visited the depression through which the Missouri and Mississippi rivers flow, many times. On May 7th, 1840, the city of Natchez [in Mississippi] was laid in ruins. The people were at dinner when, suddenly, the place was enveloped in darkness, the rain descended in torrents, and the strongest buildings shook as if tossed by an earthquake. Hundreds of lives were lost [see Times and Seasons, May 1840, 104–5]. During the year 1843, it was estimated that for a number of weeks the loss of steamboats averaged one a day.

“. . . [The] promise [in D&C 61:6] has been fulfilled. Even unbelievers have had a sense of security in the company of the Saints. . . .

“In the beginning the Spirit of God ‘moved upon the face of the waters’ [Genesis 1:2], and life and order came forth from chaos. . . .

“. . . In the Revelation by John, sixteenth chapter, we read that seven angels poured out vials of wrath on the earth. The third of these was poured out upon the rivers and fountains of waters, ‘and they became blood’ [Revelation 16:4]. That this refers to convulsions in nature and sanguinary conflicts, by which persecutors and enemies of the Church will be visited before the coming of the Lord in His glory, is the opinion of most commentators.

“[Doctrine and Covenants 61:15] is a prophecy referring to ocean as well as river traffic. Enoch prophesied concerning the latter days, as follows:

“‘But before that day he saw great tribulations among the wicked; and he also saw the sea, that it was troubled, and men’s hearts failing them, looking forth with fear for the judgments of the Almighty God, which should come upon the wicked’ [Moses 7:66]. . . .

“. . . Note [in Doctrine and Covenants 61:16] that only those who are upright in heart have promise of protection while traveling among the dangers of the sea, to Zion.

“‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake,’ God said to Adam [Genesis 3:17]. Man was to overcome the adverse forces of nature by laborious toil, and then receive for reward only a small part of the wealth hidden in the bosom of Mother Earth.

“. . . While it is true that the Lord pours out His blessings upon the unjust as well as the just, ‘for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’ [Matthew 5:45], yet He has in store for His Saints great blessings upon the land in its time. He has promised to give to them the fulness of the earth, and all He has asked is that we keep His commandments. ‘Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength’ [D&C 59:3]. Compare the blessings to Israel [in] [Deuteronomy] 28.”

(The Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, rev. ed. [1951], 361, 362–63, 364–65.)

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