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It didn’t work
To give a little context for the sections for this week, Joseph Smith has heard about the persecution happening in Jackson County, Missouri. The Saints have been driven from their homes, and they are still stuck in miserable conditions. Joseph receives revelation about redeeming Zion with the Lord’s power. Joseph puts together the Camp of Israel, which is a group of men who walk to Missouri to help the Saints get their land back. Once there, the governor withdraws his promise of military support, and the Lord disbands the group.
The Lord is acting and speaking very purposefully here as He works with His Camp of Israel and Saints. Here is a verse that we learn something from.
Doctrine and Covenants 103:6 Behold they (the Saints) shall, for I have decreed it, begin to prevail against mine enemies from this very hour.
Now it’s important to understand what’s occurring around this verse. The Saints were kicked out of their homes in November/December. They were still displaced in February when Joseph received Section 103 (including the verse above).
So the Lord declares that the enemies will be subdued starting right now. Let’s keep following the story to see what happens.
Joseph is able to gather just over 200 men on his way towards Missouri to try and help the Saints win back their lands. It didn’t “work.” Or, in the very least, it didn’t work how the Camp of Israel had originally believed it would work. They had been told in verse 27 that they shouldn’t be afraid to lay down their lives for the sake of the Lord. These men were expecting to fight with the Lord’s power to redeem Israel. As I mentioned previously, upon their arrival to Missouri, they were informed that the governor was not going to fulfill his promise to send a militia to aid the Saints. After a couple of other events, the Camp of Israel is disbanded according to the will of the Lord. He declares that He will accept their offering, and He brought them as far as He did as a trial of faith.
Let’s look back at verse 6.
The Lord declared in Section 103 that He was going to prevail against His enemies starting within that very hour, and yet, the Camp of Israel never actually prevailed against the native Missourians even four months later!
Or did it?
But the Lord never lies so who was He really prevailing against? What was the point of all this?
What is His point always?
To bring His children home to Him.
When the Lord began to prevail against His enemies in that very hour, the Saints remained in their humble circumstances waiting on Him to help them. Previous to all their afflictions, they treated His counsel lightly and did what they wanted. In the time of their immense trials, they remembered how they needed Him. I’m not so positive that the Lord viewed the native Missourians as His enemies; that’s not what He was really fighting. He was fighting Satan all along.
The Lord knew how many of his elders would be willing to go. The Lord knew that the governor wouldn’t intervene. He knew that contention and flared tempers would abound amongst His men on the way to Missouri. The Lord knew that because of this negative spirit, the Camp of Israel would not be righteous enough to fight for Zion with His power. In my mind, the Camp of Israel was never meant to battle the Missourians. The Lord has too much foresight to declare His victory over the Missourians when He knew they wouldn’t actually end up fighting the Missourians. The Camp of Israel was to battle Satan within their own hearts.
Christ and the Jews
Back up just a little bit. Christ was rejected by the Jews. There were many reasons for this. Some of the Jewish leaders were pompous and jealous of His power. Apostasy and confusion abounded. An interesting and relevant reason was that Christ was not the expectation of the Jews; they had misunderstood the scriptures.
Many of the Jews pictured the Messiah coming in great glory to fight off the Romans. That’s why many followed after zealots; they believed the scriptures taught that Christ was coming to fight off their temporal enemies. This is obviously not what Christ did. Christ was always meant to come in power and great glory, but that power was always positioned to fight off the real enemy: Satan.
The same occurred in this particular experience with the Camp of Israel. His purpose was to redeem Zion with His power, but not in the way that anyone had expected and intended. He was redeeming His people who were meant to be Zion, not the land that was meant to be Zion (though that will come at a future date).
When the Lord makes decisions, it will always come back to that basic purpose of saving His people. Even when the Lord did intervene and save the Israelites from Egypt, it was so that He could bring His gospel back into their lives (which never would have been possible in slavery). When the Lord came to Jerusalem as a mortal, He performed mighty miracles and taught His gospel. When the Lord taught Joseph Smith that He would redeem Zion, He was speaking about His people.
If the Lord intervenes in battles and conquerors and mobs, it is to teach His people. It is always to teach His people and bring them to their ultimate victory.
So how does this apply in our own lives? It’s cool to look at these chapters in the perspective of redeeming His people spiritually rather than a failed attempt to win back land, but where is the lesson that we can apply in our own circumstances?
Well…it can certainly change our perspectives on our own situations.
Is there a physical or temporal problem that the Lord has not removed? Do you ever feel like you’re in bondage to your mental health, toxic relationships, a broken body, overwhelming temptation or discouragement, seemingly insurmountable debt, or even just an inability to find a job?
Sometimes, it can be easy to believe that the Lord has His face turned away from us. It is easy to feel that we have been abandoned or that we’ve done something wrong or that we’ll never be whole again. It’s hard to imagine that a loving Lord would allow some of these things to happen when we would do anything to prevent that kind of pain for our own loved ones.
When we feel that we are drowning and we’re looking at Him with pleading in our eyes, do we believe that salvation could be occurring in that moment? Can you believe that perhaps the Lord is redeeming Zion, redeeming us, in that very hour?
Have you ever seen survival swim lessons? It’s immensely painful to watch. I’m not talking about cute group swim lessons where the instructors are happy friends to the little kids. During survival swim lessons, the kids are pushed under the water over and over and over and over from all directions; each time they come up, they’re screaming until the second they get put back under. My kids have not done these lessons, but I used to watch them as a lifeguard. By the end of these lessons, an instructor is literally pulling the child down under the water and letting go, and the child (who can be as young as three months old) is slowly floating to the top where they can get the air they desperately need.
The child has no clue as to why their parents are putting them into the arms of this cruel instructor who is torturing them so significantly, but the parent knows. The parent knows that this could be the difference between life and death for their baby.
But it’s funny…despite the fact that the parent knows that this could ultimately save their child, it is still so painful to watch.
I promise that the Lord is always turned towards you. He is so aware of you. All of His mighty power is pointed towards redeeming you though it may be in a way that you don’t yet understand. I also promise that it hurts Him too. I promise that He weeps with you as you hurt and struggle through your own trials. He allows it because He wants you to have the ultimate happiness that He has, and this is only made possible by passing through life with all its heartaches, but know that it hurts Him because He loves you. He allows it because He loves you and wants your ultimate good. He weeps with you because He loves you. He provided a Savior to walk with you because He loves you.
Despite the fact that the Saints were not restored to their homes, the Lord did show His power when they truly needed it. Despite their lack of readiness to receive an inheritance in Zion, the Lord protected them when threatened with a mob twice the size of their own group. As the Camp of Israel was moving towards Jackson County, they were met by four men who were laughing and threatening that they would be ambushed by 400 men soon. A storm swept over the Camp of Israel, flooding the river and separating the Saints from their would-be attackers. Joseph came into the building where the Saints were taking refuge and exclaimed, “God is in this storm!”
God is in your storm. Whether the storm is a part of His purposes specifically or whether He simply means to remain near you while it rages on, He is in your storm.