Doctrine and Covenants 121 is made up of extracts from an inspired letter Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints, dated March 20, 1839, from Liberty Jail. Doctrine and Covenants 121:11–33 describes the judgment that will come upon the wicked and promised revelation to the valiant.
Before class, write the following statement on the board. “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated.”
At the beginning of class, invite students to imagine that one morning, as they are leaving their homes, they find this declaration posted on the doors of their homes.
Would you be afraid to leave your home? Where would you turn for help? How would you feel if you found out the declaration was influenced by some of your former friends?
To help students understand the historical context of Doctrine and Covenants 121, explain that some of Joseph Smith’s once loyal friends had turned against him. Two of these former friends, Thomas B. Marsh and Orson Hyde, were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Both of these men signed an affidavit (a sworn statement) falsely accusing Joseph Smith and other Church members of planning to drive their enemies out by burning and destroying their property. This affidavit influenced the governor of Missouri to issue a statement, known as the extermination order, declaring that all Mormons must be exterminated or driven from the state. The statement on the board is a direct quote from the extermination order. (Thomas B. Marsh was excommunicated on March 17, 1839, and rebaptized on July 16, 1857. Orson Hyde was removed from the Quorum of the Twelve on May 4, 1839, and restored to the quorum on June 27, 1839.)
Remind students that Doctrine and Covenants 121–123 are portions of an inspired letter the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints in March 1839 while he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:11–17 silently to discover what the Prophet learned from the Lord concerning what would happen to those who had accused the Lord’s servants of transgression. Ask them to report what they found.
What do you think the phrase “their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away” means? (Those who fight against the Lord’s servants ultimately will not succeed in their designs.)
In verses 13 and 17, what reasons did the Lord give for why some had accused the Lord’s servants of sin? (The accusers’ “hearts [were] corrupted,” and they were “servants of sin” and “children of disobedience.”)
Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 121:18–22. Ask students to follow along in their scriptures, looking for additional consequences that would come to those who falsely accuse and fight against the Saints. Ask students to report what they found. You may want to explain that to be “severed from the ordinances of [the Lord’s] house” (verse 19) means to lose or be separated from the blessings associated with temple ordinances.
Inform the class that the false statements from apostate members of the Church and others, coupled with the governor’s extermination order, influenced mobs to increase their persecution of the Saints. Read aloud the following account, and ask students to listen for examples of how the Saints were treated unjustly at this time:
On October 30, 1838, just three days after the extermination order was issued, approximately 240 men approached a Mormon settlement at a place called Haun’s Mill. The women and children fled into the woods, while the men sought protection in the blacksmith shop. One of the Saints’ leaders, David Evans, swung his hat and cried for peace. The sound of a hundred rifles answered him, most of them aimed at the blacksmith shop. The mobbers shot mercilessly at everyone in sight, including women, elderly men, and children. Amanda Smith seized her two little girls and ran with Mary Stedwell across the millpond on a walkway. Amanda recalled, “Yet though we were women, with tender children, in flight for our lives, the demons poured volley after volley to kill us” (in Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record, July 1886, 84).
Members of the mob entered the blacksmith shop and found and killed 10-year-old Sardius Smith, son of Amanda Smith, hiding under the blacksmith’s bellows. The man later explained, “Nits [young lice] will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon” (in Jenson, The Historical Record, Dec. 1888, 673; see also James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints , 127–28). Alma Smith, Sardius’s seven-year-old brother, witnessed the murder of his father and brother and was himself shot in the hip. He was not discovered by the mob and was later miraculously healed through prayer and faith. Although a few men along with women and children escaped across the river into the hills, at least 17 people were killed, and about 13 were wounded. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 201, 203–4; see also History of the Church 3:183–87.) No one in the violent mob was brought to justice for their crimes in the courts of Missouri or by federal authorities.
What feelings might you have had if you had experienced these cruelties? How might you have felt when you learned that your attackers would not be held accountable for their actions?
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:23–25 silently, looking for phrases indicating that God would hold the Saints’ enemies accountable for their actions.
What principles do we learn from verses 23–25? (As students respond, emphasize the following principles by writing them on the board: The Lord sees and knows all our works. Those who fight against the Lord and His people will receive God’s judgment at His appointed time.)
Invite students to think of times when they have seen people do wrong and avoid immediate consequences.
How might the principles we identified in verses 23–25 relate to situations today when people appear to escape the consequences for their wrongdoing?
If possible, display an image of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail (Gospel Art Book , no. 97; see also LDS.org.)
What were some of the hardships Joseph Smith and his companions endured in Liberty Jail?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:26 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a truth the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded while he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail.
What truth did Joseph Smith record in verse 26? (Students should identify the following: God will give us knowledge through the Holy Ghost.)
To help students understand how this truth can relate to them when they experience difficulties, invite a student to read aloud the following testimony given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced” (“Lessons from Liberty Jail,” Ensign, Sept. 2009, 28).
How can receiving knowledge through the Holy Ghost help us when we experience difficulties?
When have you received knowledge or guidance through the Holy Ghost that has helped you through a difficult time? (Remind students that some experiences are too sacred or personal to share.)
To further illustrate the truth students identified in verse 26, you may want to invite a student to read the following account by Lucy Mack Smith, who received knowledge and comfort through the Holy Ghost after Joseph and Hyrum were taken as prisoners and threatened with death:
“In the midst of my grief, I found consolation that surpassed all earthly comfort. I was filled with the Spirit of God, and received the following by the gift of prophecy: ‘Let your heart be comforted concerning your children, they shall not be harmed by their enemies. …’ This relieved my mind, and I was prepared to comfort my children. I told them what had been revealed to me, which greatly consoled them” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley , 291).
How might the Lord’s promise of revelation through the Holy Ghost have been comforting to Joseph Smith and the Saints during this time of persecution?
Summarize verses 26–33 by explaining that the Lord promised to reveal knowledge that had “not been revealed since the world was” (D&C 121:26) and to bestow glorious blessings upon all who would endure “valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ” (D&C 121:29).
Inform the class that in Doctrine and Covenants 121:33, the Prophet Joseph Smith used an analogy to help the Saints understand that the Lord was more powerful than those who were persecuting the Saints and attempting to thwart the work of God.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:33 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the image Joseph used to illustrate the power of God. (“Rolling waters” and “the Missouri River.” You may want to explain that the Missouri River is a large and powerful river that many of the early Saints had lived near and were familiar with.)
Invite students to think of times when they have seen rushing water, such as a river or mountain stream. Ask them to also think of times when they have seen stagnant water, such as a pond. If possible, you might want to display images of these contrasting types of water.
What principle can we learn from this verse? (Help students identify the following principle: Nothing can stop the Lord’s work from going forward.)
How does it make you feel to know that the Lord’s work will continue regardless of opposition?
To conclude, you may want to briefly review the principles students have learned from Doctrine and Covenants 121. Invite students to share how they can act on these principles in their lives. You may also want to testify of how these truths have blessed you.