DISCLAIMER: This article deals with topics that may be startling to some readers.
The scriptures record various occasions when Satan himself interacts with mortals. He tempted Adam and Eve, Moses and Christ himself. The Great Deceiver does his very best to interfere during crucial period of historical importance. Many of those instances are recorded, many, assuredly, are not. Here are the three recorded instances of Joseph Smith’s struggles with Satan himself.
1. An attack at Joseph’s home in Far West
The following excerpt comes from Heber C. Kimball’s biography, written from his perspective:
He then gave me a relation of many contests that he had had with Satan, and his power that had been manifested from time to time since the commencement of bringing forth
the Book of Mormon. I will relate one circumstance that took place at Far West, in a house that Joseph had purchased, which had been formerly occupied as a public house by some wicked people.
A short time after he got into it, one of his children was taken very sick; he laid his hands upon the child, when it got better; as soon as he went out of doors, the child was taken sick again; he again laid his hands upon it, so that it again recovered. This occurred several times, when Joseph inquired of the Lord what it all meant; then he had an open vision, and saw the devil in person, who contended with Joseph, face to face, for some time.
He said it was his house, it belonged to him, and Joseph had no right there. Then Joseph rebuked Satan in the name of the Lord, and he departed and touched the child no more.
2. When Joseph Smith ordained Harvey Whitlock to the Priesthood
The Fourth of June came and we all met in a little string of buildings under the hill near Isaac Morley’s in Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio. Then we all went to a school house on the hill about one fourth of a mile ascending nearly all the way. The building was built of logs. It was filled with slab benches, Here the elders were seated and the meeting was opened as usual.
… Joseph put his hands on Harvey Whitlock and ordained him to the high priesthood. He turned as black as Lyman was white. His fingers were set like claws. He went around the room and showed his hands and tried to speak; his eyes were in the shape of oval O’s.
Hyrum Smith said, “Joseph, that is not of God.” Joseph said, “Do not speak against this.” “I will not believe,” said Hyrum, “unless you inquire of God and he owns it.” Joseph bowed his head, and in a short time got up and commanded Satan to leave Harvey, laying his hands upon his head at the same time.
At that very instant an old man said to weigh two hundred and fourteen pounds sitting in the window turned a complete summersault in the house and came his back across a bench and lay helpless. Joseph told Lyman to cast Satan out. He did. The man’s name was Leanon [Leman] Coply [Copley], formally a Quaker [Shaker].
The evil spirit left him and as quick lightning Harvey Green fell bound and screamed like a panther. Satan was cast out of him. But immediately entered someone else. This continued all day and the greater part of the night. … I knew the things I had seen was not made.
… After this we went down to the house and heard Harvey Whitlock say when Hyrum Smith said it was not God, he disdained him in his heart and when the Devil was cast out he was convinced it was Satan that was in him and he knew then it. I also heard Harvey Green say that he could not describe the awful feeling he experienced while in the hands of Satan.
You remember well Joseph Smith’s experience with Satan right before his world-changing First Vision, but the story goes deeper than Joseph Smith History. There are multiple accounts of what happened. Some come from Joseph Smith himself while others come from his contemporaries as second-hand sources.
Joseph Smith’s 1838 account (JSH version):
I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God, I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was siezed upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak.
Thick darkness gathered around me and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had siezed upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, not to an imaginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world who had such a marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being. Just at this moment of great alarm I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually untill it fell upon me.
Joseph Smith’s 1835 account:
I called upon the Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my toung seemed to be swolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some person walking towards me, I strove again to pray, but could not, the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my feet and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking, I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer …
Orson Pratt’s account:
He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind; and he was enabled to pray, in fervency of the spirit, and in faith. And, while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above …
Orson Hyde’s account:
On one occasion, he went to a small grove of trees near his father’s home and knelt down before God in solemn prayer. The adversary then made several strenuous efforts to cool his ardent soul. He filled his mind with doubts and brought to mind all manner of inappropriate images to prevent him from obtaining the object of his endeavors; but the overflowing mercy of God came to buoy him up and gave new impetus to his failing strength. However, the dark cloud soon parted and light and peace filled his frightened heart. Once again he called upon the Lord with faith and fervency of spirit.
The light at the end of the tunnel
It would have been tough to be Joseph Smith. He had some incredibly powerful experiences with the Holy Ghost and Christ himself; he also had some soul-harrowing experiences with the adversary. Joseph didn’t say much about these unnerving experiences, but he did leave us with this wisdom:
The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes.