Verses 40-52 discuss pride, clothing, cleanliness, idleness, and healing. I will begin with a verse-by-verse commentary, with any helpful cross-references I found. Then I will add some theological thoughts and questions, also arranged verse-by-verse.
40 And again thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands;
-There are of course many times where pride is condemned in the scriptures. It is worth noting that here, the warning against pride comes after the law of consecration and before a talking about clothing, cleanliness, and idleness.
41 And let all things be done in cleanliness before me.
-It seems unlikely that “all things” refers to the clothing mentioned in the last verse, and rather to all things conducted by a Zion people.
-In D&C 90: 36 God will chasten Zion until she is “clean.” Isa. 52: 1 promises that “there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.”
42 Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.
-The wording of this verse appeared to reference a story elsewhere, I assumed it was perhaps in Proverbs or a parable, but I could not find one.
-The phrase “thou shalt not be idle” is used only here.
43 And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.
-Part 1 of instructions on healing. A person has not faith to be healed, but believes. The words “have not faith to be healed” are likely referring to the gift of the spirit (see D&C 46) rather than a person having not enough faith. The phrase “faith to be healed” is only used three times in scripture: here, D&C 46, and Acts 14:9.
44 And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me.
-Note this is still talking about those who “have not faith to be healed.” The command to call the elders appears, in this verse, to be when a person is near the point of death.
45 Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection.
-“Hope of a glorious resurrection” only shows up here and in D&C 138.
46 And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them;
-To not “taste of death” usually refers to the change in body of those like the three Nephite disciples or Elijiah. However, see these curious verses:
John 8: 52: “Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death”
and Heb. 2: 9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
47 And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.
48 And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.
-Part 2 of instructions on healing. A person has faith to be healed. The sentence hinges on the reminder that God can appoint someone a time to die, even if they have a gift to be healed. It is not mentioned whether this is with or without a priesthood blessing.
49 He who hath faith to see shall see.
50 He who hath faith to hear shall hear.
51 The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
-In Isaiah 35:5-6, we have reference to blind, deaf, and lame in the same order: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart” and this as they “return, and come to Zion” (v. 10).
52 And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities.
-Part 3 of instructions on healing. A person may not have faith, but IF that person believes the people should bear their infirmities (mentioned earlier as using herbs, etc.). This seems to imply that if the person breaks the commandments, the people are not bound to do so. (See theological questions below for further discussion.)
-There are three other places where the exact phrase “become my sons” (/daughters) is used:
D&C 39: 4: “But to as many as received me, gave I power to become my sons; and even so will I give unto as many as will receive me, power to become my sons.”
Ether 3: 14: “Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.”
Moses 6: 68: “Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen.” (This is after Adam’s baptism.)
-Question: What might the Lord be teaching us by using clothing as the only example of not being proud? The commandment “thou shalt not be proud in thy heart” is followed by only one example: “let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands.” Why the connection between pride and clothes? The Book of Mormon mentions this connection quite a bit (see Alma 1: 6, 27, 32, Morm. 8: 36-37, Jacob 2: 13, Alma 4: 6, Alma 5: 53, Alma 31: 28, 4 Ne. 1: 24). In fact, I’ve been impressed that often the first thing the Nephite people do when they begin to be proud is to wear fine clothes:
In Alma 4: 6: “And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.”
Also, in 4 Ne. 1: 24: “And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.”
-Question: Is the command here for the people to make their own clothes a command about sewing, or a way to keep plainness and humility in the people? What does the text imply? How do we think of this direction: “and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands” today? Am I commanded not to shop for my clothes? It would be easy to say, “No, no, of course not Karen, you are taking it too far…” But am I? How seriously are we to take this? If it were always cheaper to make our own clothes, then I could be persuaded that it was “smart.” But I don’t have a sewing machine, I don’t know how to sew, and since I usually shop sales and thrift stores, it would probably cost me the same to buy the fabric and make clothes. But, if I did, would I be able to lose the fashions and styles of the world? Or, would we all just copy the fashions of the world when we sewed anyway? I can follow the command to “let all thy garments be plain” even as I shop, but what about the rest?
-Question: Is there any significant addition here to our understanding of Zion? There are far too many references to being clean in the scriptures to discuss them all here. It almost seems too obvious that being clean would be a requirement for Zion, but it felt too important to leave it out. Any further comments on this?
-Question: How does this verse relate to our discussion of helping the poor? Who is idle? How can you judge? Can you justify withholding help if someone is idle? Based on this verse, should the Bishop withhold assistance? (Is this verse prescriptive?) Do we (as a people, fortunately or unfortunately) generally consider someone without a job idle? Is someone without a job idle? Is this perhaps just a statement of future inevitability, that this is the idler’s natural outcome? (Is this verse descriptive?) Is the verse talking about short term or long term outcomes? What of the scriptures which say, “Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price” (2 Nephi 26:25, also in Isaiah 55:1, 2 Nephi 9:50)? Is everyone who is working justified? Consider Jacob’s words from 2 Nephi 9:51: “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.” Can you be laboring and idle? What does “idle” mean?
-Question: Why clothes? Does it mean simply that if people do not sew they have no clothes? If they do not make clothes themselves they cannot take them from others? Or does the phrase “garments of the laborer” refer to specific clothes, almost like a uniform that designates them as a worker?
-Question: Where else in scripture do we read about people working for bread and garments, and how are each of those passages different? When Adam and Eve leave the garden they have to work for their food, but God clothes their nakedness. Later the Israelites are given manna by God. Here people should work for both food and clothes. Are there other noticeable variances on this bread/clothes theme in scripture?
-Question: Why this imagery of taste? The verse says if it is sweet, they do not taste it. Why can’t they taste something that is sweet? It then seems taste here is a negative image. Why?
I love this line from Hebrews: “that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” If death is bitter, then, do the righteous have a death that is “sweet” because they don’t have to taste death itself (because Christ tasted it for them)? I’m not sure how to articulate this.
-Question: What do we learn from the words “and is not appointed unto death”? Perhaps it is a reminder that a gift is just a gift, and not something we can demand or control. How does this affect the giving and understanding of priesthood blessings? Do we assume that the elders would not bless a person to be healed if they were appointed to death? Or do we assume a person may die even if they are blessed to be healed? Does this verse assume a person received a blessing, or that their faith (as a gift) would be enough? Any clues from the text to help here?
-Question: What is the connection between a Zion being established and the healing of the blind, deaf, and lame? The reference to Isaiah is striking because these will “come to Zion.” In the Book of Mormon Christ comes to set up a Zion people and he heals those who are afflicted (3 Nephi 17:7-6). Other references containing blind, deaf, and lame include: Matt. 11: 5, Luke 7: 22, Mosiah 3: 5, 3 Ne. 26: 15, 4 Ne. 1: 5, D&C 35: 9, D&C 58: 11.
-Question: Are we under no obligation to help the unrighteous? This seems to be an odd, unfeeling question. I am not suggesting we ignore sick who are not perfect members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are plenty of statements otherwise; think just of the Good Samaritan story and all of Joseph Smith’s words on charity. In fact he says, “[A member of the Church] is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, chapter 37). Then why have this phrase “and inasmuch as they break not my laws”at all in the verse? What is it saying?
-Question: How does this reference to having power to become God’s sons change the verse? This seems to me to be a rich, powerful phrase to add in here. It certainly does not give anyone license to condemn someone for “not having enough faith.” Is it just to clarify that being ill or afflicted is not a sign of punishment from God? (See chapter 33 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.) Why use this particular phrase? How significant is this wording? If it is a genuinely significant phrase, how does its presence affect our understanding of D&C 42 in general?