The Work, the Sword, the Sickle, and the Prayer

In the first half of 1829, Joseph Smith received a number of revelations on behalf of other people. Four of those revelations begin almost identically, with a set of four biblical concepts, all of which also appear in the Book of Mormon. Why did those four concepts warrant such frequent repetition, and why did the Lord group them together?

Concept #1: The Work

A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto [among] the children of men.

Doctrine and Covenants 6:1, 11:1, 12:1, 14:1 (See also Doctrine and Covenants 4:1.)

When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove, the Savior lamented the hypocrisy of so many outwardly pious people: “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” He said (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

This state of affairs had been foreseen by the prophet Isaiah, and he had also prophesied how the Lord would respond to this widespread hypocrisy: “Behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14). The Hebrew word pala (פָלָא), which is translated “marvellous work” in this passage, means something extraordinary or even incomparable. God’s response to our small-mindedness will be to perform a work among us that is so remarkable, so transcendent, that it will dwarf our measly accomplishments.

The prophet Nephi referenced this prophecy five times as he spoke about our day (1 Nephi 14:7, 1 Nephi 22:8, 2 Nephi 25:17, 2 Nephi 27:26, 2 Nephi 29:1). When the Savior visited the American continent following His resurrection, He referenced this prophecy twice (3 Nephi 21:9, 3 Nephi 28:32).

The marvelous work is happening now. It is the Restoration of the Church and the gathering of Israel in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Concept #2: The Sword

Behold, I am God; give heed unto [to] my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my words [word].

Doctrine and Covenants 6:2, 11:2, 12:2, 14:2

In his epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul characterized the word of God as being “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Knowing this, he said, we should labor diligently to enter the rest of the Lord.

When the prophet Alma worried about the behavior of the Zoramites, he decided to preach the gospel to them. He remembered that the word of God “had had a more powerful effect upon the minds of the people that the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them” (Alma 31:5).

Mormon later notes that the word of God “is quick and powerful,” and says that it will “divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course” (Helaman 3:29).

The truths of the gospel which we have received from God are powerful. They teach clearly what we should do, and they motivate us more persuasively than anything else, including the use of force.

Concept #3: The Sickle

Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.

Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.

Doctrine and Covenants 6:3-4, 11:3-4, 12:3-4, 14:3-4 (See also Doctrine and Covenants 4:4.)

After speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus emphasized to his bewildered disciples the urgency and the readiness of the work: “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). While they were busy finding food, the Savior was focused on teaching those who were willing to receive the truth.

When Ammon and his brothers decided to preach the gospel among their enemies, the Lamanites, most of their friends were skeptical and even scornful of their plan. “Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth?” they asked (Alma 26:24). Fourteen years later, Ammon marveled at the success they had experienced. Speaking to his brothers, he said, “Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves!” (Alma 26:5).

Many people are prepared to hear the gospel.

Concept #4: The Prayer

Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.

Doctrine and Covenants 6:5, 11:5, 12:5, 14:5 (See also Doctrine and Covenants 4:7.)

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior invited us to request blessings from our Father in Heaven. “Ask, and it shall be given you,” He said; “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, 3 Nephi 14:7-8).

Jesus appealed to our feelings as parents to explain God’s eagerness to bless us. Aren’t you eager to help your own children? Don’t you want them to be happy? Our Father in Heaven feels the same way about us.

Multiple times during His mortal ministry in Israel and during His postmortal ministry on the American continent, the Savior reiterated this promise (3 Nephi 18:20, 3 Nephi 27:28-29, Moroni 7:26, Matthew 21:22, John 14:13, John 15:16, John 16:23).

God is eager to bless us. He will answer our prayers.


Taken together, these four concepts tell an inspiring story:

  1. God is doing something amazing right now.
  2. His word is a powerful force for good.
  3. People are ready to receive the gospel.
  4. He will help us if we ask.

Today I will remember the message of the preamble to these four revelations. I will contribute to God’s marvelous work, with faith that He will help me succeed.

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