As the Children of Israel entered the promised land, they also faced a change of leadership, with all that entails. As Moses doesn’t cross the Jordan, Joshua is called to lead the Israelites, cross the Jordan and subjugate the territory promised. Lesson 18 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual portrays this time as a time when the Children of Israel re-commit themselves to serving the Lord behind a new leader.
Following the death of Joseph Smith, the nascent Mormon people also had to face a change in leadership, and (although in a somewhat different manner) cross a river behind that leader on their way into a new land. Their similarity to the ancient Israelites was not lost on them, and influenced the following poem.
Its author, Charles Addison Rogers, was the son of early New York convert and hymn lyricist David White Rogers and was born in 1816 in Queenstown, Ontario. The Rogers family moved to New York City in 1830 and joined the Church in 1837, when Parley P. Pratt began missionary work there. The following Spring, the family moved to Missouri to join the main body of the Church, but Charles stayed in New York City, and by 1843 had moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he married Rebecca Keene, began a family and worked as a carpenter. In 1855 he moved to Iowa and in 1860 he apparently moved to Provo, Utah, but did not stay. I have been unable to find further information about him. The following poem was apparently composed in New Bedford after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
What will they do, let history’s page
by Charles A. Rogers
- What will they do, let history’s page
- Tell what was done, in former times,
- By saints who in an other age
- In Palestine’s dear sunny climes,
- Suffered by persecution’s ruthless hand
- The direst vengence of a hellish band,
- Of Priests, and bigots, who disgraced the land.
- Did Israel falter when their God
- Removed the Prophet of his choice,
- Was there not left an Aron’s rod,
- Was there not still Prophetic voice.
- To guide the saints, did not Jehovah bless
- Old Israel still in Righteousness;
- Did not his hand their many wrongs redress
- Ask Jerico whose mighty walls
- Were in an instand overthrown,
- Where are her towers, her princely walls,
- Where pride and luxury were known.
- Gone—Mingled with the hosts, who by God’s will
- Were overthrown near Gidions famous hill,
- When Joshua spoke and Sun and Moon stood still.
- When Christ by wicked Priest’s was slain,
- And rulers gloried in his fall,
- Did they their wished for object gain,
- When they dispised his heavenly call.
- Ask Israel’s land, that now in sadness weeps
- Once fair Jerusalem, that now is heaps
- Where turban’d Turk his watchfull vigil keeps.
- Be wise ye who this question raise,
- And ask not what the Saints will do,
- Love truth, and seek your makers praise
- And you shall know the work is true.
- For if you keep Gods laws, while here below,
- Each truth of his great kingdom you shall know,
- And learn that man can not his work o’erthrow.
- Look see you ship, a boisterous gale
- Now threatens her for to o’erwhelm,
- Though she has not lost each spar and sail,
- She has true seamen at the helm;
- Who will guide her safe, from every quicksand clear
- From shoals and rocks and dangers drear,
- And to their destined port in safety steer.
- Thus with the church though Joseph’s gone
- To dwell with martyr’d saints above;
- She like that ship is not alone,
- But blest with God’s eternal love.
- The Twelve will guide her safe, though desolation
- Shall spread throughout this guilty scoffing nation,
- “And those alone who keep their words will gain salvation.
- Then scoff no more, God is the same,
- He changes not like fleeting man,
- And trusting in his holy name,
- Obedient to his Gospel plan.
- His priesthood will go forth with mighty power,
- To prune his vineyard tin the eleventh hour,
- And rear again blest Zions fallen tower.
- It will be done though men oppose,
- The little stone must fill the world,
- And like the chaff opposeing foes,
- Will be into oblivion hurled,
- While Saints will dwell with Christ unnumbered years,
- Forever freed from sorrow pain and tears,
- These glorious truths each faithful spirit cheers.
The Prophet, v1 n28,
30 November 1844, p. 3
If nothing else, the uncertainty and emotion associated with the change in leadership following the martyrdom is clear in Rogers’ words. Did the Children of Israel face the same emotional challenges when Joshua replaced Moses? Did they also take solace in their God and in the prophesies about their eventual state?
I suspect that the change was an emotional challenge, as the years following the martyrdom were hard for early church members. Since changes in leadership today are so well established, I suspect we can’t quite identify with what the Children of Israel, or the church members at the time of Joseph Smith, faced.
Maybe the above poem can help a little.