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My brother once confided in me that perhaps the most difficult day that he could remember for his testimony was the one on which he was ordained a bishop.  Why?  Because, he told me, he had always looked up to and revered bishops.  But now he himself was a bishop, and he was acutely aware of his inadequacy and his weaknesses.

It’s probably impossible to conceive what the feelings of the original twelve apostles must have been when the Savior left them to lead the early Christian church in his absence.  We know from the New Testament gospels the hard time that they had in imagining his departure, even when he told them quite clearly about it.

Another such case is plainly described in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible:

Very arguably, Moses is the single most titanic figure of those pages.  It was he who led the children of Israel out of their Egyptian bondage and across a miraculously parted sea to the borders of the Promised Land—a complex of events that is still celebrated today around the world by both believing and secular Jews in the solemn festival of Passover.  The first five books of the Bible, often called the “Pentateuch,” are the “books of Moses.”  Moreover, the “law of Moses” was the basis on which ancient Judaism was built and on which modern Judaism continues to be based.  Even within Christianity, the relationship of divine grace and Christ’s atonement to “the law” has been a perennial topic of discussion and, often, of debate and conflict

So, we can well imagine the sense of enormous loss, almost of having been orphaned, that must have come over the Israelites—and especially over Moses’s faithful lieutenant Joshua, now called to succeed him—when the great prophet was suddenly taken from them just as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Consider, for example, these biblical passages that pertain to the period just prior to and just after Moses’ departure:

“And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.

And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.

The Lord thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath said.

And the Lord shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed.

And the Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.”  (Deuteronomy 31:1-7)

Notice Moses’s admonition to the Israelites, and then personally to Joshua, to “be strong and of a good courage” when he was no longer with them.  At the end of the same chapter, he yet again encourages Joshua in exactly the same words:

“And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee.”  (Deuteronomy 31:23)

By the opening of the book of Joshua, though, Moses is gone.  So now it is the Lord himself who undertakes to buck up the new leader’s confidence.  He promises Joshua that,

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

“Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.  (Joshua 1:5-9)

A few verses later, the people themselves try to encourage their new leader:

“And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go.

“According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.

“Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.”  (Joshua 1:16-18)

Fortunately, Joshua grows into his new role.  Eventually, he is the one who is encouraging his people:

“And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage.”  (John 10:25)

There is also, I think, a more modern parallel:  When Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the modern dispensation and the first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was suddenly—violently—removed from his place, the Saints were bereft, in mourning.  What would happen?  Who should lead?  Was the dream of the Kingdom of God dead?  Who, if anybody, would replace the martyred visionary, the seer, the translator of ancient scripture, the giver of new scripture, the mouthpiece of God?

Joseph’s loyal lieutenant Brigham Young would not have been human had he not felt at least somewhat inadequate to assume leadership of the Church.  But the situation demanded that he be strong, and of a good courage.  On 8 August 1844, about a month and a half after the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, he stood to address the gathered Saints in Nauvoo:

“For the first time in my life, for the first time in your lives, for the first time in the kingdom of God in the 19th century, without a Prophet at our head, do I step forth to act in my calling in connection with the Quorum of the Twelve, as Apostles of Jesus Christ unto this generation—Apostles whom God has called by revelation through the Prophet Joseph, who are ordained and anointed to bear off the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world.”

Brigham Young had venerated Joseph: “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time,” he once said, “when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom he gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it.” Throughout his life, he expressed his love and admiration for his predecessor.  “I can truly say,” he wrote in an 1853 letter, “that I invariably found him to be all that any people could require a true prophet to be, and that a better man could not be, though he had his weaknesses; and what man has ever lived upon this earth who had none?”  Brigham’s enduring devotion to the Prophet and his work seems to have been demonstrated at his deathbed when, perhaps in anticipation or even recognition, he spoke his last words.  They were “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph.”

The Interpreter Foundation has now very nearly completed its work on the witnesses to the Book of Mormon—e.g., in the “Witnesses” theatrical film, in the two-part docudrama “Undaunted: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon,” and in more than thirty short “Insights” videos that are freely available online at  Accordingly, the Foundation now moves on to a film about the succession of the Twelve Apostles to Church leadership, headed by Brigham Young, following Joseph’s death.

A dramatic film called “Six Days in August” will focus on that fateful day in 1844 when Brigham addressed the grieving Saints, with Sidney Rigdon claiming the right of “guardianship” over the Church, and on the events immediately leading up to it.

“Now,” said Brigham to the congregation, “if you want Sidney Rigdon or William Law to lead you, or anybody else, you are welcome to them; but I tell you in the name of the Lord that no man can put another between the Twelve and the Prophet Joseph. Why? Because Joseph was their file leader, and he has committed into their hands the keys of the kingdom in this last dispensation, for all the world.”

As currently envisioned, an accompanying docudrama will provide further background for this event as well as commentary upon it.  It will also discuss the various challengers for Church leadership in 1844 and in the years immediately following.  Importantly, too, it will discuss ways in which Brigham and his fellow apostles were prepared for overall leadership of the Saints.  I will briefly mention just two examples here:

When the tensions of the summer and fall of 1838 culminated in Governor Lilburn W. Boggs’s order that the Saints be either exterminated or driven from Missouri, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were in Liberty Jail.  Several members of the Quorum of the Twelve had either died or apostatized.  Only Brigham Young, who was by now president of the Quorum, and Heber C. Kimball were available to lead the Saints.  Brigham and Heber had been friends in Mendon, New York, even before their conversion to the Restored Gospel.  Had the Church not found them, they might have lived their lives out in obscurity as, respectively, a carpenter and joiner and a blacksmith and potter.  Now, though, leading the Saints’ difficult winter exodus to Illinois, they proved their mettle as leaders and gained invaluable experience upon which they would later draw for the great pioneer trek to the Great Basin and for presiding over the Church.

Heber and, later, Brigham and the Twelve were also sent to found and then to lead the British Mission of the Church.  Its remarkable success sent a powerful stream of converts to the United States.  Furthermore, since Joseph Smith was thousands of miles distant in a time of slow and difficult communication, they effectively led the Church there in all its aspects.

There are riveting stories here that deserve to be told and remembered.  Please take a look at the “Six Days in August” website, at

Both inside the Church he led and beyond it, Brigham Young is widely and without controversy recognized as a great pioneer leader and colonizer.  That’s why his statue stands in the United States Capitol.  But, in my judgment, he is often undervalued specifically as a spiritual leader and as the president of the Church.

Two books that, in my judgment, do better justice to that important side of him (which he himself would have seen as his most important side) are Eugene England, “Brother Brigham” (1980) and Hugh Nibley, “Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints” (1994).  In a 2019 article for the “Deseret News,” I also recommended Thomas Alexander’s biography “Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith” (see “How do you write the biography of Brigham Young?”