In Our Lovely Deseret: May in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Published: Sunday, May 18 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, May 28 2014 4:46 p.m. MDT

Statute of the prophet Joseph Smith during the sunday morning session of the 184th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

May is a spring month — sometimes as fickle as April, but sweet with hope and promise. Does May hold a birthday for you, a wedding anniversary or the birth of a child? Is May the month when, after years of longing and planning, you first saw London, Paris or the Caribbean?

Let us look at May in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Many important, challenging events took place in this month, events that had significant effects not only upon the Prophet’s life but also upon the unfolding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and, therefore, upon our lives as well.

• In May 1829, Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon with Oliver Cowdery acting as scribe. Joseph was also receiving revelations, one in reply to his question regarding baptism. After going a short distance to the green, quiet banks of the Susquehanna River, the two young men knelt in prayer. Joseph at this time was 23 years old. John the Baptist, a resurrected being, appeared and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph and Oliver, commanding them to then baptize one another. This was a momentous beginning, as keys and authority began to be brought back to the earth (see Joseph Smith History 1:72).

• By May 1831, much had happened. The Book of Mormon was printed and being carried by missionaries to all who would listen. The LDS Church had been organized. The main body of Saints, in keeping with the Lord’s command, had removed to Kirtland, Ohio. Here, Joseph's wife, Emma Smith, gave birth to twins who died within three hours. Heartbroken, she and Joseph willingly and gratefully adopted, on May 8, the twins of Julia Murdock, who had died giving them life. The babies, Joseph and Julia, were given by their father to the grieving prophet and his wife.

In March of the following year, a mob entered Joseph’s home at night, dragged him out and brutally tarred and feathered him, doing the same to Sidney Rigdon as well. But Joseph and Emma had been up, walking the floor with the babies, who were sick with measles. Baby Joseph, caught a severe cold from that night’s doings and died four days later — an early, tender martyr to the establishment of truth.

In October 1832, Joseph journeyed to New York and on Nov. 6, just hours before his return, Emma gave birth to a son. Joseph organized the School of the Prophets and began work on the house of the Lord, which he had been directed to build. A home was finally built for his family to live in — but not in peace, and not for long. In February, Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight arrived in Kirtland and laid before the prophet the tragic conditions of the Saints in Missouri. Joseph, as he listened, broke down and wept.

• On May 5, 1834, Joseph Smith and approximately 85 men, organized into Zion’s Camp, left Kirtland for Missouri. Before May was over, 207 men had been gathered. Surviving hostility as well as the weariness of the thousand-mile march, the camp was struck with the dreaded cholera: 70 men become ill, and 13 died. “What did you accomplish?” they were tauntingly asked upon their return. Knowledge and experience, they all testified. “Just what we went for,” Brigham Young countered.

• A year later, on May 2, 1835, Joseph organized the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, “special witnesses to open the door of the gospel to foreign nations.” Both Brigham Young and his dear friend Heber C. Kimball were among the number, as well as the brilliant, sometimes brash brothers Parley and Orson Pratt.

• In May 1837, the Kirtland Temple had been dedicated just the year before, sealed with the presence of angels, heavenly visitors and even the Savior himself (see Doctrine and Covenants 109). Now the bank panic that swept the country began on May 10 in New York — and provided the enemies of the Saints another opportunity to declaim and destroy them, as the Kirtland Safety Society bank failed. At length, in sorrow, the body of the church left their homes and beautiful temple — a holy and sanctified place. In the first seven months of 1838, over 1,600 Saints fled the city.

• But by May 1839, the LDS Church had survived the ravages of Missouri, Joseph and Hyrum had returned from Liberty Jail, and with Emma and his four children, Joseph moved into a small two-story log house in Nauvoo, Illinois, later to become known as the Homestead.

• On May 19, 1842, Joseph was elected the second mayor of Nauvoo, the city he had both envisioned and named, replacing the apostate John C. Bennett, who was excommunicated.

• Other important and significant things were also moving forward. Earlier, on May 4 of the same year, the Prophet administered the sacred endowment for the first time in the upstairs room of his red brick store on Water Street. The Lord was beginning to empower as well as prepare his people.

• In May 1843, Joseph, dining with the “Little Giant,” Stephen A. Douglas, told the ambitious politician: “Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United States; and if ever you turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you.”

• There were not too many springs left for the Prophet. On May 17, 1844,the state convention held in Nauvoo nominated Joseph Smith as a candidate for the presidency of the United States. Though praised by many for the clarity and wisdom of his political views, the powers of darkness rose and gathered and would not again be quelled.

• Nine days later, on May 26, Joseph addressed the Saints during what was to be the last month of his life. He told them, “I, like Paul, have been in perils, and oftener than anyone in this generation …”

“God is in the still small voice,” he said. And when Joseph’s life ended on June 27 at the hands of his enemies, the testimony of his life took on a power greater than before. His words reflected the integrity of all he had done for the Saints and for the cause of truth.

These words, also spoken that May day, are a powerful testimony of the purity and love of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“I have set your minds at liberty by letting you know the things of Jesus Christ. As I grow older, my heart grows tenderer for you. I am at all times willing to give up everything that is wrong — for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader.”

Sources: “On This Day in the Church,” Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Alexander L. Baugh, Robert C. Freeman and Andrew H. Hedges; “Joseph Smith, A Photobiography,” by Susan McCloud; “History of the Church,” vol. VI, p. 408 and p. 412

Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com. Email: susasays@broadweave.net

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