Last Dispensation, part 3

After liberation from slavery in Egypt, Israel was not organized, but left to follow the Law revealed to Moses, with essential religious rites and functions trusted to priests and Levites. As need arose the Lord would inspire action, but the body of believers were self-governing.

This condition was unlike how other surrounding people were organized. Although Israel had the prophet Samuel at the time they wanted to imitate the order they saw elsewhere. That led to a revolution in Israelite society. Here is how the change happened.

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together and came to Samuel, unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us, like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Listen unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done, since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in which they have forsaken me and served other gods, so do they also unto you. Now therefore listen unto their voice. Nevertheless, yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” OC 1 Sam. 4:2; emphasis added

The intolerable freedom and apparent disorder of Israelite society made them insecure. Other nations could organize armies and plan invasions of their neighbors. Israel was vulnerable. A generation before Samuel when the threat came from the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east who gathered together to attack Israel, the Lord visited Gideon and took upon Himself the defense of Israel against her enemies. Gideon sent out a request for defenders, and thirty-two thousand men volunteered. But the Lord told Gideon that was too many for His purpose, and had Gideon send home all who were fearful or afraid. After twenty-two thousand left there remained only ten thousand to defend against the Midianites, Amalekites and children of the east.

After another round of sending the volunteers home based on how they drank from the stream, only three-hundred remained. These three-hundred did not drink with their heads down, but using their hands to cup and drink they remained vigilant and watchful while drinking. The Lord explained, “By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you and deliver the Midianites into your hand. And let all the other people go every man unto his place.” OC Judges 3:6

The Lord wanted Gideon and Israel to know it was Him who would deliver Israel. He would fight their battles. And by the hand of those three-hundred the Lord did deliver Israel safely from the threat posed by their neighbors.

Samuel was told to warn Israel what making a king over them would produce. “And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them for himself, for his chariots and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be compounders, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to his officers and to his servants. And he will take your menservants and your maidservants, and your best young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and you shall be his servants. And you shall cry out in that day because of your king whom you shall have chosen you, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” OC 1 Sam. 4:3

When the restoration began there were no offices other than priest and elder. Priests were ordained and elders were elected by the assembled believers. When Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon (both of whom were Campbellites) converted to the new religion they brought with them the desire to have a more ordered congregation of believers. The Lord accommodated their desire, much as He did in Samuel’s day. Although every existing church was corrupt, yet the saints wanted to have something more than the scattered congregations of the early restoration.

In time there was an entire magisterium of offices put into place, with all the failures that follow having positions of authority. Nauvoo was a hotbed of deceit, adultery, lying, promiscuity and intrigue. The religious status of John C. Bennett gave credibility to his seduction of women in Nauvoo.

Ultimately Joseph turned to a new “Kingdom of God” that was not the organized church. It was something very different. In it Joseph was to be a “king and priest” to God, in a distinctly different kind of order. It involved adoption sealing, which is first mentioned by Joseph Smith in October 1843. There was a familial pattern beginning to emerge, altogether distinct from quorums, priestly offices, and an organized religious society. This was something quite new, and hardly began in the few last months of Joseph’s life.

Had Joseph Smith continued westward in late June 1844 it is likely we would have learned about something more akin to the earliest days of mankind’s religion. We would likely have seen the “church” replaced by a family organization. However, the curtain closed, Hyrum (holder of the office of patriarch and priesthood) and Joseph (prophet and seer) were taken and the “fullness” forfeited.

The offer to gather in Joseph’s day produced some wonderful things. We should prize them as gifts from heaven. But the organizations that have become corrupted should not fool anyone into thinking they hold the same status as did Joseph.

At the end of Mormon’s abridgment of The Book of Mormon he looked clear-eyed at the latter-day churches (including those who claim they are what Joseph restored) and warned us: “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shewn you unto me, and I know your doing, and I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts. And there are none, save a few only, who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquity. And your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies? Because of the praise of the world? Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick, and the afflicted to pass by you and notice them not? Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain? And cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground for vengeance upon your heads? Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you, and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer.” NC Mormon 4:5

Every dispensation holds the potential to be the last. There is going to be a final generation who will rise up and allow the Lord to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Careful, solemn, ponderous thought and meekness before God are required.