I recently had a great time studying D&C 132. After studying some references to the Abrahamic Covenant, and the way that connects generation to generation back to Adam, things jumped out at me in D&C 132 that never had before. Putting those pieces together, I now have a new (to me anyway) reading of D&C 132 that I really like.
Here’s about how it goes…
So, first off, the opening verses make it clear that this is in response to a question Joseph Smith had about why Abraham had lots of wives. The tenor of the verse is something like, “Why in the world would that be allowed?” Other places in scripture are pretty clearly against it (see, for example, Jacob 2, especially verse 24).
I think the way the section progresses answers this question, and also Jacob 2, very well. First of all, it should be noted that the “law” explained and outlined in section 132 is not about polygamy or about marriage generally. How can I get away with stating that? Look now at verse 7, the first time this “law” is outlined in the section:
7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.
So forget for a moment that you have ever been taught that D&C 132 is about marriage, and try reading this verse. All it says is: everything that constitutes a connection on earth will mean nothing in the eternities; everything that is sealed by the priesthood will remain in the eternities. That’s it.
Jump with me, for just a moment, to other places in scripture that talk about something similar. D&C 128:9 says, “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?” He goes on in verse 10 to quote Matthew 16:18-19 where Peter is given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” and told that “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Again, God says something similar to Nephi in Helaman 10, “behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.”
The idea in both of these verses is that someone has come to the point where that person won’t ask anything in prayer that God won’t want to give, so He can simply trust that person to ask or say what needs to be done and it will happen. That person becomes in the greatest sense God’s servant on earth; they become a team with God.
That is how the sealing power is defined in scripture. The focus is not on marriages, although that is the only application we usually talk about in our Church meetings.
Now, imagine for a moment you are Joseph Smith. Apparently, Joseph has already or is now being given this same power. Verse 7, the same quoted above, says “I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days.” That’s quite the responsibility! Put yourself in the place of someone receiving this full version of the sealing power. You have that power, and are given that law outlined in verse 7, and so you know that anything you don’t seal on earth won’t matter in the eternities, and anything you do will matter in the eternities! The verses right around verse 7 make it clear that this is very serious business. Whoever enters into this law, “must obey the same” (verse 3), ” and “he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned” (verse 6).
Verses 9 and 10 add their own warnings, in language similar to the story of Cain and Abel: “Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name? Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?” That’s pretty strong language to use too. What was Cain’s first problem? That he knew what God expected, and he chose to do otherwise. Imagine someone who knows the law of verse 7, and who can seal up the right things for eternity, but tries to either use that power to seal up something not right, or, does not seal up something he knows God wants him to seal. This is a real heavy stewardship with heavy consequences.
As we continue through the rest of D&C 132, keep this law in mind. The “law” of D&C 132 is the law given to those who have this full sealing power, the power held by one only person on earth at a time. Remember also the warnings in verses 3 and 6, but especially those in 9 and 10. Note also that the “law” of verse 7 is also described in verse 14 thus: “For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed.” That language of “by me” will come up over and over again. And I like it: Christ is always the gate that opens and closes to Heaven. The sealing power is just His power given to someone on earth for a certain time.
On to the rest of D&C 132. Marriage is first mentioned in verse 15. But notice how this verse starts: “Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world….” It starts with a therefore, and has to be read in the context of verses 1-14. “Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.”
That “therefore” means that marriage is one example of what can be sealed up for the eternities. It is not the only purpose of the sealing power, but it is an genuine and important use of this fullness of the sealing power.
Note in verse 17 this curious statement: “For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly.” Why the words “abide my law?” Why the (seemingly harsh) consequence? It might mean those who did not know about the law and were married without the priesthood, but that seems to contradict everything in scripture about those who don’t know the commandments aren’t judged by those commandments. Rather, perhaps, and this is my own interpretation, it means those who know about the law, and after that still choose to be married without the priesthood. They went outside what God had appointed (see verses 9-10) and therefore aren’t trusted with the power that godhood would entail! It’s one reading of the text, anyway. It opens up the room needed for those who didn’t know about the law and are now receiving ordinances vicariously. Or perhaps this is talking more about those who actually had the sealing power? Lots to think about.
Anyway, the point for now that I hope is clear is that marriage is one example of a “covenant, contract, bond, obligation, oath, vow, performance, connection, association, or expectation” that can be sealed up.
But it’s not just that marriage is an example. It’s a very, very important bond that should be sealed, because marriage on the other side of the veil has important consequences:
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths … and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
The seems that only way for “the seeds” to continue forever and ever is if there are gods and goddesses sealed together with the right power and authorization. If no one on earth were ever to have a marriage sealed, would the work of the gods cease? That’s a question I want to ask, if I could. So it seems to be, anyway, from the words we have here.
Now, let’s jump to Abraham’s first mention, in verse 29: “Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.” First point: Abraham received all things (wives included and implied here) by commandment, and therefore was not condemned. (Later on verses 34-37 will bring out this same point in its complexities.)
Verse 30 detours a bit to address Abraham’s covenant situation:
Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.
Abraham was promised – note – seed “both in the world and out of the world” that would “continue as innumerable as the stars.” And Joseph Smith was apparently part of the fulfilling of that promised seed.
This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.
Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.
But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.
Not only is Joseph a fulfilling of that promise (a number in that innumerable amount of children), Joseph can also have the same promise too. In fact, God commands it. But, there is a catch: “if you enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.” First, before Abraham received his covenant, he had to enter into the “law” outlined in verse 7. You have to become the kind of person who sees the world that way: all that is sealed by God matters in the eternities, all that is not sealed by God doesn’t matter in the eternities. When that is clear (and perhaps when you also have that full sealing power? I’m not sure) God can also covenant with you to receive the same promise of seed continuing in and out of the world forever. (And in that work, of saving more and more people, is the “works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.”)
Again, let’s jump back to verses 3, 6, and 9-10. If this law is known but not obeyed, then wherein will the works of the Father continue? This law allows marriages to be sealed, and the work of salvation to continue.
The basic idea is clear, but there are some clarifications that come next.
God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.
I love the phrase: “This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” Part of why Abraham had another wife was because God has given him a very big promise that he would have innumerable seed! One thing this polygamy accomplished was to fulfill that promise already given to Abraham. (This follows Jacob 2:30, by the way.) But, it wasn’t something Abraham could have initiated himself. That would have been to do something not appointed (verses 9-10). But since God commanded it, he was under no condemnation.
But otherwise, he would have been. Polygamy is not just a “good idea” that is sort of “out of fashion” in today’s world. It is expressly abominable to God that anyone would think to marry more than one woman! In fact, please consider carefully the comparison in the next verse (verse 36):
Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
Polygamy is compared to killing one’s own son! Having more than one wife is compared to breaking the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” In both cases, it should be seen that the commandment is NO, but in every case imaginable, obeying God trumps the commandments. Only if God commands is polygamy, killing, or any other breaking of a commandment justified. (This again accords with Jacob 2:23-34.)
Verse 37 clarifies: “as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.” I think that not only is this verse pointing out that they were justified and not condemned for what they did, I think it’s also pointing out that the reason they are gods is because they “did none other things than that which they were commanded.” They kept the law outlined in verse 7, and heeded the warnings such as those mentioned in verses 9-10.
Now we see the counter example of David. “David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord.”
Note that David’s primary sin, as outlined here, is not that he killed Uriah. David, and others, haven’t sinned when they have had more than one wife “save in those things which they received not of me.” David didn’t sin by his other wives and concubines, “save in the case of Uriah and his wife.” He knew of the law outlined in verse 7, but he chose to go outside of that law. Like Cain, he offered up an offering that was different than what God had commanded. And therefore, “he has fallen from his exaltation.”
I think it’s important to recognize from all of this that D&C 132 is primarily a discussion of the sealing power and the law outlined in verse 7. Marriage is an important and necessary bond that needs to be sealed. But we can’t quite wrap our brains around that, or even really be worthy to receive that fully, unless we understand and reconcile ourselves to the view of the law outlined in verse 7. Are our hearts such that all we really care about are things that can be sealed up for the eternities? Could we someday be trusted to live in such a way that we would only ask for whatever God would be okay to grant? That seems to be the primary question we can take from D&C 132. And in that sense, perhaps things like the law of consecration in D&C 42 are meant to be only a step on the way, a specific and practical, straightforward application of the broader and all-encompassing view of D&C 132:7, that “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise … are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.”
And perhaps we can also take from this that our own sealing is not just about my spouse and myself, but about being part of the fulfilling of the promises given to Abraham. We aren’t just sealed to each other, as we would usually say it, but our place in Abraham’s family is sealed and we become part of the eternal fulfilling of his promise. What all that entails, I’m still learning, but it’s something glorious nonetheless and I’m thrilled to keep studying it more! (Not that I’ve ever posted on the Abrahamic Covenant before! ha!)