Lesson 89: Doctrine and Covenants 85–86

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


In late November 1832, some Saints had moved to Zion but had not consecrated their properties as the Lord had commanded. Because they had not consecrated their properties, they had not received their inheritances according to the established order of the Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith addressed this issue in an inspired letter to William W. Phelps, dated November 27, 1832. A portion of this letter is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 85. Later, on December 6, 1832, Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 86 as he was working on the inspired revision of the Bible. This revelation provided further explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares and the role of the priesthood in helping the Lord gather the righteous in the last days.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 85

The Lord’s clerk is to keep a record of the people of God

Invite students to imagine they have just been awarded a starting position on a sports team. (You could name a predominant team sport in your culture and a popular team that plays that sport.) After a few days of playing with this team they observe that one team member is a selfish player, some team members won’t play their positions properly, and others ignore the coach.

  • Why might it be difficult for this team to win? What might need to change so this team can play better?

Explain that a similar situation began to arise in 1832 as a growing number of Saints arrived in Missouri. Earlier revelations had stipulated that the city of Zion would be built in Jackson County, Missouri, according to the Lord’s laws and under the direction of the priesthood. According to these laws, Church members were not to travel to Zion unless they received a certificate from the Church leaders. Once they arrived, they were to consecrate all their money and property to the Church and receive an inheritance from the bishop. In addition, they were to keep all the commandments of God. (See D&C 64:34–35; 72:15–19, 24–26.)

To help students understand the context of the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 85, explain that many of the Saints in Missouri lived in harmony with the laws the Lord had set forth for building Zion. However, some Church members disobeyed the Lord’s command to consecrate their properties and traveled to Zion without obtaining a certificate from their leaders. Because of this, they did not receive their inheritances.

  • Why might it have been difficult to establish the city of Zion under these circumstances?

Explain that in response to these difficulties in Missouri, Joseph Smith sent a letter to William W. Phelps, a Church leader who was living in Independence at the time (see the section introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 85).

Explain that the Prophet’s letter provided instructions for the Lord’s clerk, John Whitmer, who lived in Missouri. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 85:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the Lord instructed the clerk of the Church in Missouri to do.

  • What was the clerk instructed to record?

Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 85:3–5 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for who the Lord said should not have their names written in the records of the Church.

  • Which people were not to have their names written in the records of the Church?

Explain that just as records were kept in Joseph Smith’s day, Church records are also kept in our day. One purpose for this is to preserve a record of the names of the faithful as well as an account of their works.

  • What are some things we must do to have our names recorded as faithful members of the Church?

After students respond, write the following truth on the board: If we live the laws of God, our names will be written upon the records of the Church as faithful members. Explain that the actions of the faithful that are recorded on earth are also recorded in heaven in what is called the book of life (see D&C 128:6–7). Invite students to scan Doctrine and Covenants 85:5, 9, 11 and identify other titles used to describe the record that is kept on earth about those who are faithful. Ask them to report what they find.

To help students feel the importance of the truth you have written on the board, invite them to imagine that they have plans to attend a prestigious event. Ask them how they would feel if they arrived at the event but were not allowed in because their name was not on the invitation list.

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 85:9–11 silently and imagine how it would feel to find their names missing from the Lord’s book of remembrance.

  • What do you think it means that those whose names are not recorded “shall find none inheritance” with the Saints? (They will not receive the blessings that will be given to the faithful.)

  • According to verse 11, what can cause Church members to have their names removed from the book of the law of God?

  • How would you summarize what you have learned about the importance of having your name recorded as a faithful member of the Church?

Testify that records are kept both here on the earth and in heaven. We will all have to account for our actions and our faithfulness in living the laws of God. Invite students to ponder their attitudes toward and obedience to the laws of God.

Doctrine and Covenants 86

The Lord explains the parable of the wheat and the tares

Before class invite a student to read Matthew 13:24–30 and be ready to summarize the parable of the wheat and the tares for the class. Write the following words on the board: wheat, tares, the field, sowers of the seed, the enemy.

    After the selected student summarizes the parable, ask the class the following questions:
  • What do the wheat and the tares symbolize? (The wheat symbolizes the righteous, and the tares symbolize the wicked [see Matthew 13:38].)

  • Why did the man in the parable want to wait to have the tares pulled out?

wheat and tares

Display the accompanying picture of wheat and tares, or draw it on the board. Explain that tares are a type of poisonous weed. Wheat and tares are almost identical when they sprout, but they can be distinguished once they mature. If a reaper tried to pull out the tares before the wheat and tares matured, he or she would likely destroy much of the wheat as well.

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 86:1–6. Ask the class to follow along and look for the meanings of the field, sowers of the seed, and the enemy. Invite students to report what they learned.

  • Based on the Lord’s explanation of the symbols, how would you summarize the meaning of the parable?

Explain that Joseph Smith was reviewing and editing the inspired revision of the Bible (the Joseph Smith Translation) when he received this revelation. The revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 86 expands on the parable as it is recorded in Matthew 13:24–30. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 86 we learn that the sowers in the parable represent the Savior’s Apostles (see verse 2) and that the tares “choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness” (verse 3). We also learn that “in the last days,” new blades of wheat will begin “springing up” (verse 4). The sowing of the tares can represent the Apostasy, and the sprouting of new wheat can represent the Restoration.

Point out that in the parable, the householder instructs his servants to first gather the tares to be burned and then to gather the wheat in the barn (see Matthew 13:27–30). Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 86:7 silently to discover an insight this revelation provides that clarifies the order of gathering.

  • What do we learn from verse 7 about the order of gathering?

  • What does this teach about what will happen to the righteous and the wicked in the last days? (Students should identify the following doctrine: The Lord will gather the righteous during the last days and then destroy the wicked at His Second Coming.)

Display the pictures Missionaries: Elders and Missionaries: Sisters (Gospel Art Book [2009], nos. 109, 110; see also LDS.org).

missionaries, elders
missionaries, sisters
  • How do these pictures relate to the parable of the wheat and the tares? (Help students see that we can assist in the gathering of the righteous by sharing the gospel with others.)

Explain that remembering the many ways we are blessed as members of the Lord’s Church can increase our desire to share those blessings with others. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 86:8–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for ways we have been blessed as members of the Lord’s Church.

  • According to verses 8–10, what are some ways we have been blessed as members of the Lord’s Church?

Point out the phrase “ye are lawful heirs” in verse 9. Explain that this means that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are part of the covenant God made with Abraham, through which Abraham was promised that his descendants would enjoy the blessings of the priesthood and would share those blessings with others (see Abraham 2:9–11).

  • How have you been blessed through the priesthood?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 86:11 aloud, and ask the class to identify ways we are to help others. Ask students to report what they found. Write the following principle on the board: We can bring salvation to others by helping them receive the blessings of the priesthood.

Invite students to share experiences they have had when they were able to set a righteous example for someone else or when they helped another person receive the blessings of the priesthood.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 85:7–8. Who is the “one mighty and strong”?

The reference to the “one mighty and strong” (D&C 85:7) who is to set in order the house of God and the reference to one who “putteth forth his hand to steady the ark” (D&C 85:8) have been used by many apostates to justify their falling away from the Church. They claim that various Presidents of the Church have lost favor with God and are rejected, and that they, the apostates, are the “one mighty and strong” called by God to set things right. Such claims contradict the meaning of the scriptures. In an official statement issued in 1905, the First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) discussed the circumstances that brought forth the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 85:7–8 and those to whom these two phrases referred:

“It is to be observed first of all that the subject of this whole letter [the Prophet’s letter to William W. Phelps], as also the part of it subsequently accepted as a revelation, relates to the affairs of the Church in Missouri, the gathering of the Saints to that land and obtaining their inheritances under the law of consecration and stewardship; and the Prophet deals especially with the matter of what is to become of those who fail to receive their inheritances by order or deed from the bishop. …

“Bishop Partridge was one of the brethren, who—though a most worthy man, one whom the Lord loved, and whom the Prophet described as ‘a pattern of piety,’ and ‘one of the Lord’s great men’—at times arrayed himself in opposition to the Prophet in those early days, and sought to correct him in his administrations of the affairs of the Church; in other words, ‘put forth his hand to steady the ark.’ …

“It was while these conditions of rebellion, jealousy, pride, unbelief and hardness of heart prevailed among the brethren in Zion—Jackson County, Missouri—in all of which Bishop Partridge participated, that the words of the revelation taken from the letter to William W. Phelps, of the 27th of November, 1832, were written. The ‘man who was called and appointed of God’ to ‘divide unto the Saints their inheritance’—Edward Partridge—was at that time out of order, neglecting his own duty, and putting ‘forth his hand to steady the ark’; hence, he was warned of the judgment of God impending, and the prediction was made that another, ‘one mighty and strong,’ would be sent of God to take his place, to have his bishopric—one having the spirit and power of that high office resting upon him, by which he would have power to ‘set in order the house of God, and arrange by lot the inheritance of the Saints’; in other words, one who would do the work that Bishop Edward Partridge had been appointed to do, but had failed to accomplish. …

“… And inasmuch as through his repentance and sacrifices and suffering, Bishop Edward Partridge undoubtedly obtained a mitigation of the threatened judgment against him of falling ‘by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning,’ so the occasion for sending another to fill his station—‘one mighty and strong to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the Saints’—may also be considered as having passed away and the whole incident of the prophecy closed” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:112, 113, 115, 117; see also Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001], 186–87).

Doctrine and Covenants 85:8. What does it mean to “steady the ark of God”?

The phrase “steady the ark of God” refers to “an incident during the reign of King David in ancient Israel. The Philistines had captured the ark of the covenant in battle but returned it when they were struck by plagues (see 1 Samuel 4–6). David and the people later brought the ark to Jerusalem in an ox cart, driven by Uzzah and Ahio. ‘And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error, and there he died by the ark of God’ (2 Samuel 6:6–7; see vv. 1–11). The ark was the symbol of God’s presence, His glory and majesty. When first given to Israel, the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, and not even the priest was allowed to approach it. Only the high priest, a type of Christ, could approach it, and then only after going through an elaborate ritual of personal cleansing and propitiation for his sins. …

“However well-meaning Uzzah’s intentions, he approached casually what could only be approached under the strictest conditions. He had no faith in God’s power. He assumed that the ark was in danger, forgetting that it was the physical symbol of the God who has all power. We cannot presume to save God and His kingdom through our own efforts.

“‘Uzzah’s offence consisted in the fact that he had touched the ark with profane feelings, although with good intentions, namely to prevent its rolling over and falling from the cart. Touching the ark, the throne of the divine glory and visible pledge of the invisible presence of the Lord, was a violation of the majesty of the holy God. “Uzzah was therefore a type of all who with good intentions, humanly speaking, yet with unsanctified minds, interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of God, from the notion that they are in danger, and with the hope of saving them” (O. V. Gerlach).’ (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, bk. 2: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, ‘Second Book of Samuel,’ p. 333.)” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2001], 188).

The Lord referred to this incident in modern revelation to teach the principle that we should not take upon ourselves the responsibility to give direction (“steady the ark”) to our priesthood leaders or others whom God has called and appointed (see D&C 85:8). Yet there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady it. Some members of the Church may see problems and be frustrated with the way they feel their leaders or others are addressing those problems. They may feel that even though they do not have the authority to do so, they need to correct the course of their ward or even of the Church. However, the best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s Church.

President David O. McKay taught:

“It is a little dangerous for us to go out of our own sphere and try unauthoritatively to direct the efforts of a brother. You remember the case of Uzzah who stretched forth his hand to steady the ark. [See 1 Chronicles 13:7–10.] He seemed justified when the oxen stumbled in putting forth his hand to steady that symbol of the covenant. We today think his punishment was very severe. Be that as it may, the incident conveys a lesson of life. Let us look around us and see how quickly men who attempt unauthoritatively to steady the ark die spiritually. Their souls become embittered, their minds distorted, their judgment faulty, and their spirit depressed. Such is the pitiable condition of men who, neglecting their own responsibilities, spend their time in finding fault with others” (in Conference Report, April 1936, 60).