The Devil’s Power
over the Waters
John A. Tvedtnes
On 9 August 1831, Joseph Smith was returning from Independence, Missouri, to Kirtland, Ohio, when the following incident occurred:
“We started down the river in canoes, and went the first way as far as Fort Osage, where we had an excellent wild turkey for supper. Nothing very important occurred till the third day, when many of the dangers so common upon the western waters, manifested themselves; and after we had encamped upon the bank of the river, at McIlwaine’s Bend, Brother Phelps, in open vision by daylight, saw the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters; others heard the noise, but saw not the vision.” (History of the Church 1:202)
The following morning, after prayer, Joseph dictated the revelation now found in D&C 61, portions of which read:
“Nevertheless, I suffered it that ye might bear record; behold, there are many dangers upon the waters, and more especially hereafter; For I, the Lord, have decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters; yea, and especially upon these waters . . . Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters.[i] Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters. And it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters, but he that is upright in heart . . . And now I give unto you a commandment that what I say unto one I say unto all, that you shall forewarn your brethren concerning these waters, that they come not in journeying upon them, lest their faith fail and they are caught in snares; I, the Lord, have decreed, and the destroyer rideth upon the face thereof, and I revoke not the decree.” (D&C 61:4-5, 14-16, 18-19)[ii]
The concept of the devil having power over the waters is also found in an early Christian text, Book of the Rolls f. 98b-99a:
“The tenth hour is for the water, and in it the Holy Ghost hovers and goes up over the other waters and chases the devils from them. Were it not for the Holy Spirit hovering every day over the waters and descending in that hour, when any one drank water, would there not be destruction to him from the corrupting devils in it? If any one took the water in that hour, and one of the priests of God mixed it with holy oil and anointed with it the sick and those in whom were unclean spirits, they were cured of their diseases.”[iii]
[i] Revelation 8:8-11; 11:6; 16:3-5.
[ii] Isaiah declared that the Lord protects the righteous from the threat of rivers and fire (Isaiah 43:2).
[iii] Margaret Dunlop Wilson, Apocrypha Arabica (London: C. J. Clay, 1901), 14.