Thoughts on Emma Smith


I’ve had my attention called to D&C 25 several times lately. It is, of course, often considered the “women’s” section in scripture. In some sense I appreciate lessons directed to women. On the other hand, those sorts of lessons (especially when it’s meant to be scriptural) always seem to be a bit forced and awkward. In imagine there are probably fantastic insights having to do with women in the scriptures, but we ought to be a bit more careful than we usually are.

In any case, I would like to spend some time in D&C 24 and 25. I’ll be sharing some ideas and exploring what possibilities I see in these verses.

D&C 25:4 – poor Emma is usually labeled as “a righteous women, strongheaded, but of course she murmured. And then there’s that unfortunate event of not going west….” Poor Emma. I think we so misread her. But to get to this verse specifically:

It seems plausible to me (without any training or experience in the history books, mind you!) that Emma wasn’t so much murmuring against God, but wondering if she was being left out due to mortal opinions. I am very aware now that there are some practices in the Church that are part of God’s plan, and some that are just mortal opinions turned into policies. I suppose we could call them the “precepts of men.” At times, I have wondered if something I was asked to do was by revealed assignment, or out of “habit” or “tradition” or “cultural opinions” etc. Perhaps Emma had similar experiences. Maybe she didn’t, as the institute manual suggests, think she was “entitled to some special favors.” Perhaps she, with whatever she saw firsthand, wondered if she was being left out because of mortal opinions rather than God’s direction. I wonder what may have been said by others around her about why she didn’t see the plates. Did some criticize her? Suggest she was unworthy? Suggest that this was just for men? This revelation may have provided her with some much-needed reassurance.

The word “murmur” reminds me of Sariah. It seems in her case, she was having trouble by separating Lehi the father and Lehi the prophet. Did God really communicate with Lehi? There was a bit of doubt. She knew when her sons returned that she could trust him.

It is always calming to know that what someone says is actually from God. How can we gain that trust? We would like to assume that all priesthood holders were faithful and full of the spirit. But to be honest there are great numbers of them that aren’t living with the spirit. (Beyond my own observations, see D&C 121!) Does God still communicate through them? If I have concerns that they aren’t living with the Spirit, how do I respond to their direction? What about a blessing – a sort of personal revealed will for me?

I can sympathize with these two women in scripture. I am fortunate to have several priesthood holders that I trust completely. I realize more all the time that the absolute trust I have in them is rare. I am happy Emma and Sariah received reassurance, as needed, that their husbands were indeed communicating with the divine. We count women like them lucky, that they are married to such great men. And they are very blessed and they themselves are great women. But to be so close to revelation, where it is both common and real, does challenge faith in a unique way.

I have more thoughts (but less time!) for these verses:

verse 2 – inheritance – did Emma not go West, in part, because she believed she should wait for her inheritance in Zion? Even though Joseph died, she had been told that God would “preserve thy life” and that she would “receive an inheritance in Zion”?

verse 16 – “unto all” – I noticed in the institute manual, that the person writing took this to mean that the entire section could be applied to women. This seemed a bit forced. For one, it says this is his voice “unto all” – men and women, not just women! Second, it assumes a long list of directions to Emma can be applied to an “elect lady in any time or place.” Apparently all women should assume their financial support comes from the church. 🙂 This makes sense for Emma – Joseph in D&C 24:18 was commanded to rely on the church. But my husband hasn’t! Can we really apply this to every woman? Also, while all women can and should study and teach scripture, Emma was told she will be ordained to “expound scriptures, and to exhort the church … he shall lay his hands upon thee … thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much.” Yes these are all worthwhile things for any person, so yes, for any woman. However, this section is outlining a special assignment for Emma. If this were just something automatic for any woman, then why this revelation and why be ordained? Aren’t we taking this completely out of context and trying to force something in scripture to be talking about just women so that we have something to say to them? Let’s be more careful!

It seems rather than 25:16 is referring to the verses just before it: “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come. And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all. Amen.” Can we otherwise actually assume that all women are commanded to make collections of hymns?? That was actually included in the list from the institute manual.

This revelation is first to Emma Smith, and then at the very end we see the words “this is my voice unto all.” It is not a “women’s” revelation: it is to Emma, then “unto all.” In looking for righteous examples for women, seeing how Emma was counseled is instructive or helpful. But seeing Emma as an example is different than saying this is “the one revelation in scripture directed to women, so let’s make the most if it.” Everything in scripture is directed to women – God is no respecter of persons – and inversely, this revelation does not say that “this is my voice unto all women.” 🙂

verse 5 – it is interesting that she is called both to her husband and to the church. Of course every husband and wife should be directed to each other in love, but perhaps she had a special calling? Joseph is called to the church, she is called to both the church and to her husband. More to think here?

verse 9 – his calling – note that he is actually commanded to rely on the church for support in D&C 24:18. These two revelations really must be read together.

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