Liberty Jail: 'Window' to processes of revelation

One of the most plaintive passages in scripture is found in the opening words of what might be termed "the prison verses." The passage, found in the opening verse of Section 121, was formed while the Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin spent five months (November 1838-April 1839) in jail at Liberty, Mo.

This section, which is part of a prayer by Joseph Smith, begins: `O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" (D&C 121:1.)Liberty Jail, according to B.H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy (1888-1933) was "more temple than prison, so long as the Prophet was there."

In A Comprehensive History of the Church, Elder Roberts wrote:

"It [Liberty JailT was a place of meditation and prayer. . . . Joseph Smith sought God in this rude prison, and found Him. Out of the midst of his tribulations he called upon God in passionate earnestness."

In But for a Small Moment, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve wrote:

"The nearly windowless prison-temple becomes a unique window itself through which to view Joseph and the processes of revelation and soul stretching evident during this particular period of the Restoration. Herein we see Joseph testifying while suffering, learning while teaching, giving direction to the work while he was being tutored, giving blessings while being cursed, and proclaiming the United States Constitution to be `a glorious standard' even while being grossly deprived of his own constitutional rights.

"The scene, therefore, is not one of an isolated prophet insulated in a calm, scholastic or monastic setting. Rather, we see a prophet removed from but still very much involved in the fray. Though Joseph had been betrayed, jailed, and defamed, the Lord's work went on through him in the midst of `all these things.'

"Significantly, through the `window' that was Liberty Jail we see Joseph growing spiritually and being prepared for the rushed moments in another and final jail - Carthage.

"In Liberty, Joseph had time to ponder, albeit the grim conditions. Joseph's introspections doubtless prepared him to receive therein the great revelations now known as sections 121 and 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 123 was set forth by Joseph during the same period of incarceration. Portions of these revelations and Joseph's own communications and reflections during his imprisonment illuminate for us, in ways probably unique in all of scripture, the challenges associated with deepening one's discipleship."

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote regarding the adversities the Prophet and his companions suffered while in jail:

"Much of the time they were bound in chains, and never wholesome or prepared with the thought of proper nourishment. Several times poison was administered to them in their food, which made them sick nigh unto death, and only the promised blessings of the Lord saved them. Their bed was on the floor, or on the flat side of a hewn white oak log, and in this manner they were forced to suffer. Is it any wonder that they cried in the anguish of their souls unto the Lord, for relief from such inhuman treatment?" (Essentials in Church History, p. 210.)

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