In the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon, we read about a man named Lehi who lived in Jerusalem around 600 BC and was disturbed by what he saw around him.
He went to God and experienced a vision where he saw and heard many things, leading him to go out into the streets to prophesy to his people and call them to repentance, but that didn’t go too well.
“And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations;”1 Nephi 1:19
Pay very close attention to the phrase wickedness and abominations, which appears again and again throughout the Book of Mormon. Repetition should catch our attention, especially exact repetition.
King Mosiah used the same terminology to describe King Noah’s wicked practices:
“Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.”Mosiah 29:18
Why were the Jaredites destroyed?
“…these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.”Alma 37:29
Mormon even warns the Gentiles of our day using the same phrase:
“Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations…”3 Nephi 30:2
There are many, many more occurrences, too many to list here, but keep this all in mind as we continue.
Lehi leaves Jerusalem, journies across the Arabian peninsula for eight years, and then travels on a long and dangerous trip across the ocean to the Americas.
Upon their arrival in the promised land, the people began to look back to David and Solomon and their whoredoms to justify reviving those wicked practices (Jacob 1:15) in their new civilization.
This doesn’t go unnoticed, and the Lord has some words for the Nephites:
“Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.”Jacob 2:25
The Lord wasn’t going to have the people that he had just led out of Jerusalem fall back instantly into wicked ways. Read the next verse very carefully:
“For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.”vs. 31
The Lord has heard the mourning of his daughters in the land of Jerusalem so this multiplying of wives and concubines was happening there too! Not only that, but it was happening in ALL the lands of his people as well. The Lord specifically calls out the “wickedness and abominations” of the husbands of the daughters of his people in every land, including Jerusalem.
There’s that phrase again, “wickedness and abominations,” the exact phrase Nephi uses to describe what his father, Lehi, was testifying against in 1 Nephi 1:19 and that we see all over the Book of Mormon.
The Lord continues:
“And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.”Jacob 2:32
It’s clear that the Lord has led his people out of a polygamous Jerusalem, and he does not want those same practices polluting his people in the new land of promise.
The Damascus Document, one of the books found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, contains the views of a particular ancient sect that opposed polygamy and had an interesting view about marriage and King David.
They mention three traps that would be an issue for the Israelites, and the first one was fornication or polygamy specifically. It speaks of the “Shoddy-Wall-Builders” who:
“[took] two wives in their lifetimes, although the principle of creation is “male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27) and those who went into the ark “went into the ark two by two” (Gen. 7:9). Concerning the Leader it is written “he shall not multiply wives to himself” (Deut. 17:17); but David had not read the sealed book of the Law in the Ark; for it was not opened in Israel from the day of the death of Eleazar and Joshua and the elders who served the goddess Ashtoret. It lay buried [and was not] revealed until the appearance of Zadok. Nevertheless the deeds of David were all excellent, except the murder of Uriah and God forgave him for that.The Dead Sea Scrolls – Revised Edition: A New Translation By Michael O. Wise, Martin G. Abegg, Edward M. Cook, https://books.google.com/books?id=218JbeU2POgC&pg=PA55#v=onepage&q&f=false
There is a lot to unpack there, but they taught that the principle of creation is “male and female He created them” and looked at the pattern of one male and one female that went into the ark two by two as an example that God set.
They also point out that the book of the law says that the leader of the people “shall not multiply wives to himself” but that David was unaware of this law because the book of Deuteronomy was not discovered until the reign of king Josiah which just so happened to be 25 years before Lehi left Jerusalem!
The timing here is very significant, but it’s beyond the scope of this piece to dig into all the angles; however, think about why it was so critical at this point to get the brass plates out of Jerusalem shortly before the destruction. It was also important to get them out before they could be found and destroyed by the Deuteronomist reformation initiated by King Josiah, which would have surely destroyed or altered the plates.
The Lord, in Jacob’s sermon, reveals that men were multiplying many wives and concubines in Jerusalem in Lehi’s day and in ALL the lands of his people, enough so that God himself heard the cries and needed to intervene.
Because as God says in Jacob 2,
“I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old…For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.”vs.26-28
And no, verse 30 is not an exception; that verse has been horribly distorted from its actual meaning, and I outline exactly how here in this essay.
What verse 30 is roughly saying is that if the Lord determines to raise up a righteous branch, they must hearken unto his command; otherwise, they shall hearken unto the precepts of men and practice wickedness and abominations.
The Lord again forcefully declares:
“…[the Nephite men] shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.”vs.33
A “sore curse, even unto destruction,” just like the polygamous Jerusalem that they just fled from?
Jacob reminds his people:
“…ye know that these commandments [to have one wife] were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.”vs.34
The Lord led Lehi out of a polygamous Jerusalem and Israel while at the same time specifically commanding him and his posterity to be monogamous in direct opposition to the society that they were leaving.
They did so by pairing uniformly with another family so there would be one husband and one wife for each family.
Could the wicked practice of desiring many wives be why Nauvoo was destroyed and Joseph Smith killed by a mob? Could this be why the early Utah church was almost destroyed before finally abandoning the practice? I can’t say, but it is certainly interesting that polygamy was the key player in both of those incidents, and they follow the same pattern in the Book of Mormon.
It’s not hard to see why this practice is frowned upon by the Lord; just look at the fruits as described by Jacob:
“Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.” Jacob 2:35
Even Brigham Young described very similar feelings and conditions existing among the women living under polygamy in his day:
“it is frequently happening that women say they are unhappy. Men will say, “My wife, though a most excellent woman, has not seen a happy day since I took my second wife;” “No, not a happy day for a year,” says one; and another has not seen a happy day for five years. It is said that women are tied down and abused: that they are misused and have not the liberty they ought to have; that many of them are wading through a perfect flood of tears, because of the conduct of some men, together with their own folly.”Sermon by Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4., pp. 55-57; also printed in Deseret News, Vol. 6, pp. 235-236
He gave the women two options: “either round up their shoulders to endure the afflictions of this world, and live their religion, or they may leave…” (ibid) they had from that day until six months later to decide whether to endure their situation or take a free divorce from their husbands.
“I will go into heaven alone, rather than have scratching and fighting around me. I will set all at liberty. “What, first wife too?” Yes, I will liberate you all.”ibid
Imagine being a woman and being told by the leader of your faith that if you don’t like what you are experiencing, just abandon your family and the years and years you put into those relationships.
Well, here’s Brigham’s take,
“But the first wife will say, “It is hard, for I have lived with my husband twenty years, or thirty, and have raised a family of children for him, and it is a great trial to me for him to have more women;” then I say it is time that you gave him up to other women who will bear children. If my wife had borne me all the children that she ever would bare, the celestial law would teach me to take young women that would have children.”ibid
I’m not trying to dump on Brigham here, but these are his actual words. I encourage looking up the original sources and reading them in context to draw your own conclusions. But the stark similarities between the early LDS women and the Nephite women are sobering to me.
Personally, I agree with former church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said in a globally televised interview with Larry King, “As far as we’re concerned,” Hinckley said, “[polygamy is] behind us, a long ways…I condemn it as a practice because I think it’s not doctrinal.”
Nephi saw our day and had this to say about the churches which shall be built up:
“Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.”vs.9
He saw that they:
“have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.”vs.11
He saw that they:
“wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms…”vs.14
There we go the same phrase along with the term “whoredoms” which Jacob and the Lord used against the Nephite practice of taking many wives and concubines.
But surely that couldn’t be our church, right? That’s talking about all the other churches but not us! Well, it doesn’t name any names, it just names the fruits, and we have to ask ourselves if those fruits are or were among us or not.
But the Lord makes a promise to the inhabitants of the earth:
“But behold, if the inhabitants of the earth shall repent of their wickedness and abominations they shall not be destroyed, saith the Lord of Hosts.”vs.17
Again, compare that with what the Lord told Jacob’s people who were involved in the wicked practice of desiring many wives and concubines:
“For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old”Jacob 2:33
It is clear that there is a link between the wicked practice (Jacob 1:15) of desiring many wives and concubines and the destruction of civilizations, including our own, if we do not prevent these things from creeping in among us.
There is a way to repent, Jacob’s people repented, and I would even say that the LDS church, to a large degree, repented by abandoning the practice, albeit reluctantly.
That said, the “doctrine” of polygamy still holds ground in one section of Doctrine and Covenants (132) and in our theology when it comes to sealings.
This is a large and complex topic, and the early history of the church is a very tangled web that I have found very difficult to unravel. Where I do find solid ground is the scriptures, and it must be the scriptures that we turn to in order to understand what is happening there first before delving into what people wrote in their journals, oftentimes long after events allegedly occurred and under all manner of conditions.
The Book of Mormon was not written and preserved for our day to deliver inapplicable information.