DC 37 Introduction
Joseph Fielding Smith
The call to the Ohio was for two reasons. The opposition to the Church in and around Fayette had become bitter. There had been many converts made among the followers of Sidney Rigdon in Kirtland, and the spirit there was friendly. The trend of the Church was ever westward; as persecution arose, and it became necessary to seek protection the Church moved farther and farther west. The Lord had a design in this. The place of the City Zion was west and it was necessary that eventually the Church be located there. Although it would not be a permanent residence, until Zion is redeemed. Not only was Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon commanded to go to Ohio, but this came as a command to the entire Church. The Lord was anxious for them to assemble there, "against the time" when Oliver Cowdery should return from his mission to the Lamanites in the West. However, the Prophet was not to leave for Ohio until he had "strengthened up the Church whithersoever it is found, and more especially in Colesville, for behold, they pray unto me in much faith." It appears that these members in Colesville needed some attention and encouragement before the change of residence should be taken. The Lord had some very special reasons why the Church should assemble in Kirtland. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 151.)
DC 37:1 it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more...
"The Prophet Joseph Smith began work on the Bible in June 1830 in the vicinity of Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Fayette, New York. In December 1830 he was living near Fayette, and the translation had reached KJV Genesis 5:22, only a few verses after Enoch is first mentioned. The KJV has very little to say about Enoch, but near the middle of December, with the appointment of Sidney Rigdon as scribe for the translation (D&C 35:20), an extensive revelation was received restoring a vast amount of information relative to Enoch. If placed chronologically, the portion of the JST that deals with Enoch would occur just after Doctrine and Covenants section 35 was received and before section 37.
"This revelation speaks of a city called Zion in which the inhabitants were 'of one heart and of one mind, and dwelt in righteousnes[s]; and there were no poor among them.' (JST Gen. 7:23; Moses 7:18.)...
"Shortly after giving this information about Enoch's Zion, the Lord instructed the brethren to cease translating the Bible for a time and to move the Church from New York into Ohio, where they would receive the law of the Lord and a special blessing. (See D&C 37:1-3; D&C 38:32; D&C 39:15.) It is most interesting that most of the next twenty or so sections in the Doctrine and Covenants discuss many aspects of the 'law' that would establish Zion, such as consecration of property, the establishment of the economic order for the Church, the Sabbath, and the building of a temple. It appears that one of the objects that the Lord may have had in mind in having Joseph Smith translate this part of the Bible was to provide the Saints with a record of Enoch's Zion as a pattern for the building of the latter-day Zion. Since it was missing from the Bible it had to be restored." (Robert J. Matthews, "Plain and Precious Things Restored," Ensign, July 1982, 17-18)
DC 37:1 and this because of the enemy and for your sakes
"One of the reasons for this move and the gathering of the saints in Ohio was because enemies of the Church were plotting the deaths of the members." (L. G. Otten and C. M. Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982-1983], 1: 181.)
And now I show unto you a mystery, a thing which is had in secret chambers, to bring to pass even your destruction in process of time, and ye knew it not...I say unto you that the enemy in the secret chambers seeketh your lives...
And that ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered unto me a righteous people, without spot and blameless-
Wherefore, for this cause I gave unto you the commandment that ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high. (D&C 38:13-32)
"Hardly had he begun the task [of translating the Bible] than the Lord directed him to change his residence: 'Behold, I say unto you that it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio, and this because of the enemy and for your sakes.' (D&C 37:1.) He clarified this in a later revelation. (See D&C 38:31-32.) The Lord herein gave the Prophet four specific reasons for his going to Ohio: (1) a place to escape the power of the enemy (Satan and his co-workers), (2) the first gathering place for the Saints in this dispensation, (3) revelation of the law, (4) an endowment with power from on high. Within a few weeks after arriving in Kirtland, the Prophet saw all these promises fulfilled, except the last. He was to wait five years to receive that portion of the Lord's promise." (Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black, eds., The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988], 92 - 93.)
DC 37:2 ye shall not go until ye... have strengthened up the church
After the above directions were received, Joseph and Sidney went to the several churches preaching and prophesying wherever they went, and greatly strengthened the churches that were built unto the Lord. Joseph prophesied saying: God is about to destroy this generation, and Christ will descend from heaven in power and great glory, with all the holy angels with him, to take vengeance upon the wicked, and they that know not God. Sidney preached the gospel and proved his words from the holy prophets: and so powerful were their words, that the people who heard them speak were amazed, and trembled, and knew not whereunto this thing would grow. The adversary of all righteousness being crafty, and beguiled the people, and stirred them up to anger against the words spoken, and has blinded their eyes, and is leading them down to darkness, misery and woe. (The Book of John Whitmer, typescript, [Provo: BYU Archives and Manuscripts], chap. 1)
DC 37:3 a commandment I give unto the church...that they should assemble together at the Ohio
The missionary labors of Parley Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson had been remarkably successful in "northeastern Ohio... The missionaries baptized approximately 130 converts, organized the new members into small 'branches,' and appointed leaders over each group. Approximately thirty-five of these members lived in Kirtland, Ohio." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 604.)
While it is difficult to get an accurate count of early membership, the above quotation indicates that there were about 130 members in Ohio. At the same time the Prophet estimates that there were about 70 members in New York and Pennsylvania (History of the Church, 1:133). By numbers alone, the gathering in Ohio made sense. During this time, growth would be rapid. By the spring of 1831 when most of the New York saints set out for the West, membership in Ohio had burgeoned to 300. Similarly, growth in the East continued such that about 200 saints were willing to make the journey. "The gathering at Kirtland, Ohio, would provide a brief refuge from worldly ills and hostility and new opportunities for instruction, unity, and manifestations of the Spirit." (Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 13.)
DC 37:4 Behold, here is wisdom
This would be the first gathering of the latter-day dispensation. Remarkably, the very literal gathering of Israel would begin within the first year of the Church's existence. Why would the Lord require the gathering in Ohio? What was his purpose? Why has the Lord required saints of previous ages to gather together?
What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? ...The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.
It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything to gather the people...It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 308.)
Marion G. Romney
Of all the evidences of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, Jr., there is hardly one that is more conclusive than the fact that within a year from the time the Church was organized he began to receive instructions from the Lord concerning the building of temples. ("Temples-The Gates to Heaven," Ensign, Mar. 1971, 14)
DC 37:4 let every man choose for himself
Little did the early saints know what the Lord would ask of them. The new kingdom was not one for those who would say, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." (Luke 12:19) Rather, the saints would be asked to sell their homes and move-most of them would have to move several more times under trying circumstances. This was a difficult thing for many saints. The Lord's counsel to the complainers, was "let every man choose for himself."
"[During the January conference of the church], several Church members inquired about the commandment to move to Ohio. In the presence of the congregation, Joseph Smith prayed to the Lord and received a revelation (see D&C 38)...
"Not everyone at the conference was in harmony with this revelation. A few people claimed that Joseph Smith invented it to deceive the people and to enrich himself. Johm Whitmer wrote in his history that this claim arose because the hearts of the Saints, 'were not right in the sight of the Lord, for they wanted to serve [both] god and man.' In addition, some people were reluctant to leave farms and comfortable circumstances for the uncertainties of the Western Reserve in Ohio. There was the prospect that many would lose money and some might even be unable to sell their property (see D&C 38:37). Most of the New York Saints, however, reconciled themselves to the commandment and made preparations to leave." (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 1989 Institute Manual, 89-90)
"Newel Knight said that this entailed the sacrifice of their property. Newel sold 60 acres, Freeborn DeMille 61 acres, Aaron Culver 100 acres, and Father Knight 140 acres, with 'two Dwelling Houses, a good barn, and a fine orchard.' Led by Newel, sixty-two Knight kin moved to Ohio as part of the first gathering." (William G. Hartley, "The Knight Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet," Ensign, Jan. 1989, 46)
"Most of the faithful Saints who followed the Lord's command to 'go to the Ohio' acted out of pure faith. Like the children of Israel who had faith that God would sustain them in their journey to the promised land, many came on foot, leaving behind them their worldly goods as well as family and friends. What few possessions these faithful converts were able to carry could not sustain them for long. But the Saints already in Kirtland welcomed these pilgrims and shared their meager substance willingly. These stalwart individuals formed the foundation for the Church's amazing growth and progress." (Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith's Kirtland [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 11.)