D&C 98:33-48

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Home > Doctrine & Covenants > Section 98 > Verses 98:33-48
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D&C 98:33-48: Macro rules for countries[edit]

  • D&C 98:33, 39: And again. The term "and again" is often (though not always, see verses 17, 22, 25-26) used by Joseph Smith in his revelations to indicate the beginning of a new thought. In other words, the term often indicates a break in the train of thought rather than continuity. In verse 33 "and again" appears to mark a shift from micro rules given to the ancients about the justified use of violence on the level of individuals to corresponding macro rules about when violence is justified on the level of peoples and nations. In verse 39 "and again" appears to mark a shift from the rule for responding when "war is proclaimed" to the rule for responding when "thine enemy has come upon thee." See the more complete discussion of "and again" at D&C 5:23.
  • D&C 98:33-48: The standard for when one country is justified in fighting another. After providing the standard for when an individual is justified in acting with violence (D&C 98:23-32), the Lord provides the standard for when a country is justified in acting with violence. (D&C 98:33-48). First is the rule for responding when "war is [merely] proclaimed." (D&C 98:33-38). Then the rule for responding when "thine enemy has come upon thee." (D&C 98:34-48).
  • D&C 98:33-48: The standard is about avoiding war when possible, not surrendering when war is unavoidable. The Lord's requirement that countries must repeatedly seek peace before going to battle (unless commanded otherwise by the Lord) does not mean that war must be avoided at the cost of surrendering, only that it must be avoided whenever the aggressor can be dissuaded. For example:
  • The Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches that war is justified when it is defensive and is intended to protect one's country.
  • While the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's are praised in the Book of Mormon for adopting such a high standard of moral conduct that they allowed themselves to be destroyed rather than defend themselves, this conduct is treated as a deviation from normal righteous behavior. Their own children, the 2,000 "sons of Helaman," are protected by the Lord to the very last man as they take up arms in the defense of their parents and other fellow Nephites. And Captain Moroni is described as a man of perfect understanding against whom the devil could have no power, even though he teaches his people to actively defend themselves even unto bloodshed (Alma 48:11-18) and at one point even coerces fellow citizens to take up arms in defense of their country. (Alma 51:20).
  • Mormon led the Nephite army in three defensive wars that successfully repelled invading Lamanite armies. But when the Nephites voluntarily elected to avenge themselves by offensively attacking the Lamanites, Mormon refused to lead them and the Lord decreed destruction upon them because "vengeance is mine." (Morm 3:7-15). "And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them." (Morm 4:4).

D&C 98:33-38: The rule when war is proclaimed against you[edit]

  • D&C 98:33: Fight only when commanded by the Lord. The basic rule is very straightforward: Never go to battle unless commanded by the Lord. (D&C 98:33).
  • D&C 98:34-37: Raising the standard of peace three times. The Lord then identifies a circumstance under which we can be certain that the command will be given: If an enemy proclaims war and rejects the offer of peace three times, then the command to go to battle will be given. (D&C 98:34-36).
But the Lord does not say that raising the standard of peace three times is a necessary condition for receiving the command to go to battle, only that it is a sufficient condition. This leaves open flexibility to receive the command to go to battle even when that condition has not been satisfied.
It seems likely that the Lord's promise of vengeance upon the third and fourth generations of an enemy (D&C 98:37) is invoked only when the standard of peace has been refused three times. It seems likely that verse 37 is part of the "then" statement that began in verse 36, which appears to reach back only to the "if" statement in verse 34. It also seems likely that the promise of vengeance upon the third and fourth generations in verse 37 would be triggered by repeated refusals of peace, conduct that is analogous to the repeated attacks that are required to trigger the similar promise in verse 46.
This standard is stated as a universal rule, given to the ancients, but serving as "an example unto all people."
As with the previous standards, these guidelines seem to contrast with the standard prevalent among nations and world leaders today. this provides a challenge to Latter-day Saints who may live in nations that do not follow the Lord's guidelines on warfare. Rather than offering immediate justification for fighting, the Lord outlines the need to offer up a peaceful resolution and the possibility for attackers to repent. It seems unlikely that any nation today with the ability to retaliate would fail to do so after three or even two attacks.
  • D&C 98:37: The Lord will fight their battles and avenge. Here the Lord seems to indicate that there may be ways to avoid fighting, even after three attacks. While some may read the Lord's promise to "fight their battles" as an indication that he will strengthen a nation and help it defend itself, there are other scriptural accounts of the Lord actually defeating an enemy without a nation having to fight. The Lord does not delight in bloodshed, and seems to be telling the Saints here that even if warfare seems inevitable and justified, if they have faith, there may be ways to defeat an enemy without their having to shed the blood of their attackers.
  • D&C 98:38: An example for our day. Since the Lord is giving this revelation as "an example" in the Latter-days, it seems clear that these standards of defending families and nations apply specifically to us in our day. While they may differ from standards of justifiable defense in our legal courts, these are the standards that the Latter-day Saints are to follow "for justification before [the Lord]".

D&C 98:39-48: The rule when your enemy has come upon you[edit]

  • D&C 98:39-40: Enemies who attack and then repent are to be forgiven seven times seventy times. Here the Lord commands us to forgive our enemies if they attack us and then repent. If the enemy repents, then the prior attack no longer counts and we are to "hold it no more as a testimony" against them. Even if they again attack and then again repent, even to the proverbial seven times seventy times.
  • D&C 98:41-43: Enemies who attack and do not repent are to be forgiven three times. If an enemy attacks and does not repent, then the attack may be held as a testimony against that enemy. But still we must forgive that enemy three times.
  • D&C 98:44-46: Enemies who attack four times without repenting are in peril of divine vengeance. Upon the fourth attack without repenting, the enemy is in peril. To repent, the enemy must restore fourfold or else the Lord will avenge us a hundred fold against the enemy and its children unto the third and fourth generations.
If the enemy does repent and restore fourfold, we are to forgive "with all our heart." What does it mean to not forgive? It seems directly related to exacting restitution. However, the Lord makes it clear that we are not to seek vengeance or restitution on our own. Instead, he tells us to bring our testimony to him, and he will "avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold." In sum, even after multiple attacks by an unrepentant enemy, vengeance is still the Lord's, rather than ours, to repay.
  • D&C 98:47-48: Children of the enemy can repent for the sin of their parents in order to escape inherited vengeance. The Lord ends this revelation by emphasizing the role and importance of repentance, even providing a way to end generations of violence and hatred by allowing children to repent of the hatred and violence perpetuated by their fathers. The repentance required of the children is the same that would be required of the offending parents: to repent and restore fourfold. It is not clear from the text whether the opportunity for the children of an enemy to repent applies to the promises of vengeance in both verses 37 and 45-46, or only to the second promise of vengeance in verses 45-46. Conceptually, however, the opportunity to repent would seem to apply to both since there does not seem to be any reason for treating repentant children differently under these two very similar rules.
Within the context of this entire revelation - the Lord's standards for maintaining his gift of peace offered to the Saints - the role of Latter-day Saints is clear. Rather than becoming embroiled in the political machinations of "wicked" rulers or vendettas and warfare, the Latter-day Saints are to choose and uphold "honest and wise men" for their leaders, renounce war and proclaim peace, and bring peace to the earth by administering the ordinances of the gospel and admonishing all nations to repent and forgive their enemies, even to bringing current generations to repent of the violence perpetuated by or suffered by their ancestors. Only then will peace be brought to the earth so that the Savior can reign here as the Prince of Peace.

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  • D&C 98:38-44. Will the Lord justify our modern military battles if we don't follow his standards and don't wait to obtain a commandment to attack our enemies after suffering at least three attacks ourselves?
  • D&C 98:40. What are we to do with an enemy that attacks us, repents, but then attacks us and repents again and again (verse 40)? How might this apply in modern situations where nations fight against each other with continued rounds of violence and cease-fires?
  • D&C 98:41-43. Why does the Lord suggest that it is better to forgive, rather than to seek retribution?
  • D&C 98:41-43. Why would the Lord command us to forgive our enemies, even if they don't repent or seek our forgiveness?
  • D&C 98:45. Are we ever justified in seeking vengeance upon our enemies, or are we to leave that to the Lord?
  • D&C 98:47-48. How can children repent of their father's sins?
  • D&C 98:47-48. When do children have an obligation to repent of their father's sins?

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