My Come, Follow Me studies took me to Doctrine and Covenants 102-105. Mobs in Jackson County, Missouri, drove the Saints from their homes in late 1833, and many of the refugees found safety across the Missouri River in Clay County, Missouri. From there, they sent letters to the Prophet Joseph Smith informing him of their circumstances. They also sent messengers from Missouri to Kirtland, Ohio. After traveling from Missouri, Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight arrived in Kirtland in January 1834 to visit with the Prophet personally about the plight of the Saints in Missouri.
Pratt and Wight reported to the Prophet and the Kirtland high council on February 24, 1834. When the Prophet announced that he was going to Missouri to help redeem Zion, 30-40 people committed to go with him. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 3: February 1833-March 1834, ed. Gerrit J. Dirkmaat and others , 453-54.)
That same day, the Prophet received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 103. In the revelation, the Lord promised that the Saints would be “[restored] to the land of Zion” if they did not “pollute their inheritances” (Doctrine and Covenants 103:13-14). He also directed Church leaders to gather men and resources to help the Saints living in Missouri.
This revelation seems to be a continued fulfillment of a previous revelation given six months earlier. In the first revelation, the Lord indicated that the Prophet would lead “the strength of mine house … unto the land of my vineyard, and redeem my vineyard” (see Doctrine and Covenants 101:55-56). In obedience to this revelation, Church leaders visited congregations of Saints to gather funds, supplies, and volunteers for the Camp of Israel. (See 453–54, 457–59.)
The Prophet and the Saints were obedient to the Lord’s command, and more than two hundred volunteers formed the Camp of Israel (later known as Zion’s Camp). The men, with several women, formed the Camp of Israel to help the Saints in Missouri who were forced out of their Jackson County, Missouri, homes.
The Camp of Israel were in camp four miles north of Fishing River, Missouri, on June 22, 1834, when the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated the revelation now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 105. In the revelation, the Lord explained that the Saints must “wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:9). He also gave instructions for actions that the Saints must do to redeem Zion or to reclaim Zion sometime in the future.
One of the principles taught in Doctrine and Covenants 103 and 105 is that Zion can be built only on principles of righteousness. The Lord revealed that Zion will be built in Jackson County, Missouri, but Zion will not be redeemed until the Saints are living the principles that will create Zion.
The Lord stated that Zion’s Camp could not redeem Zion and restore the Saints to their lands because “of the transgressions of my people” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:2). Zion has not yet been redeemed, so His people must still be transgressing His commandments. It seems to me that everyone who desires to redeem Zion must exam their own life and put their own life in order.
Another principle taught in these revelations is that blessings come after afflictions and trials of faith. Those volunteers who participated in Zion’s Camp went through a trial of faith. Their journey was long, the weather was hot, and there were inadequate supplies of food and water. The volunteers endured these conditions because they thought that they were going to redeem Zion. They arrived in Missouri only to hear that they must “wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenant 105:9).
It is obvious that the Lord did not send Zion’s Camp to Missouri to redeem Zion. However, the journey was not a waste. The trek from Ohio to Missouri tried the faith and commitment of the members of Zion’s Camp. A few failed the test, but the vast majority of the men who went with the Prophet Joseph Smith passed the test. Numerous future leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were among the members of Zion’s Camp. Brigham Young learned principles, skills, and practices that he later used in leading the Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Salt Lake Valley.
In other words, the Lord used Zion’s Camp as a school of training for His future leaders. Strong and committed leadership was one of the blessings that came out of the adversities of Zion’s Camp. The Lord will still redeem Zion, but it will not happen until the Saints and their leaders are prepared to inhabit it.