For anyone interested in the historical context behind the individual (and collective) sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, this resource provided by the Church is an excellent study aid.
Especially helpful is the “Index by Section Number” that should help in quickly finding articles to specific sections:
These typically short articles are ideal resources for Sunday School or quorum lessons, seminary and institute classes, personal and family scripture study, etc. They provide enough historical information to be informative without being overbearing.
For example, the article on D&C 6, 7, 8, 9, and 13 titled “Oliver Cowdery’s Gift” mentions the following information on Oliver Cowdery’s interest in and use of divining rods.
Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s day similarly believed in divining rods as instruments for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.
The Lord recognized Oliver’s ability to use a rod: “thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the rod.” Confirming the divinity of this gift, the revelation stated: “Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands for it is the work of God.” If Oliver desired, the revelation went on to say, the Lord would add the gift of translation to the revelatory gifts Oliver already possessed (D&C 8:8-11).
This is really all the typical member needs to know about this topic, and is perfectly expressed in this passage. It’s short, sweet, to-the-point, and devoid of the sensationalism often present in antagonistic treatments.
Similarly, the article on D&C 132, “Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage,” gives this brief discussion on the origin of plural marriage.
[In 1843] Joseph Smith committed section 132 to writing, dictating the revelation to his secretary William Clayton in the small office at the back of Joseph’s red brick store. Parts of the revelation had been known to Joseph long before, probably as early as 1831 while he worked on his inspired revision of the Old Testament. Why, Joseph had asked God in prayer, did He justify Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others in “having many wives and concubines”? The answer was not immediately apparent because Joseph’s own culture and upbringing shunned plural marriage. The revelation answered simply and directly: God had “commanded” plural marriage, and because the biblical patriarchs “did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation.”
Section 132 thus answered a question long debated within Western culture. On the one side were those who argued that God approved plural marriage among the ancients. St. Augustine thought Old Testament plural marriage was a “sacrament” that symbolized the day when churches in every nation would be subject to Christ. Martin Luther agreed: Abraham was a chaste man whose marriage to Hagar fulfilled God’s sacred promises to the patriarch. Luther hypothesized that God might sanction plural marriage in modern times under limited circumstances. It “is no longer commanded,” he observed, “but neither is it forbidden.”
On the other side of the debate were those who argued that the Old Testament patriarchs had gone astray in practicing plural marriage. John Calvin, Luther’s 16th-century contemporary, believed that plural marriage perverted the “order of creation” established with the monogamous marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Calvin had a profound influence on early American religious attitudes. Not all Americans agreed that the biblical patriarchs had erred, but Joseph Smith’s contemporaries overwhelmingly followed Calvin in the belief that plural marriage in modern times was wrong under any circumstance.
Section 132 stood above this debate, approving of the patriarchs’ actions in God’s own voice. Plural marriage, the revelation said, had helped fulfill the promise God had made to Abraham that his seed would “continue as innumerable as the stars.” Nevertheless, the revelation went on to take a much bolder step than vindicating the patriarchs. As the seed of Abraham, Latter-day Saints were commanded for a time to practice plural marriage. “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham.”
Joseph Smith had been reluctant to enter plural marriage at first, fully realizing the persecution it would bring to the Church. Monogamy was then the only form of marriage legally accepted in the United States, and opposition was sure to be fierce. Joseph himself had to be convinced of the propriety of plural marriage. Three times an angel appeared to him, urging him to move forward as directed. He eventually entered plural marriage and introduced the principle to other followers in Nauvoo as early as 1841. Committing the revelation to writing allowed him to more easily spread the message of this new commandment, which was introduced cautiously and incrementally.
Here we see a commendable succinctness in how the article explains the historical context of early Mormon plural marriage and D&C 132. It’s great for a seminary or Sunday School lesson on D&C 132, where the topic of plural marriage is wont to come up, or if perhaps a youth comes to his or her parents with questions about early Mormon plural marriage.
Granted, these short articles aren’t meant to be exhaustive, which is why it might be wise to also include the information found in the Gospel Topics essays in any discussions of these sections, as circumstance and propriety dictate. For example, both the essays “Book of Mormon Translation” and “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” expand upon the information in the “Revelations in Context” articles discussed above.
In any event, be sure to utilize this excellent resource provided by the Church. It’ll enrich your study of early Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants.