Marvin J. Ashton (1915 - 1994), Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

When Frederick G. Williams was called to be a counselor to Joseph Smith, he was given this charge: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5.)

Coupled with the word strengthen, which is to make or become stronger, the phrase led me to contemplate the meaning of these words.

Early on, I assumed “feeble knees” meant weak or exhausted. However, the context of its use in Isaiah (see Isa. 35:3–4) suggests that it may have a somewhat richer meaning, something more like fearful. I actually favor this latter interpretation. Today we often hear such expressions as “weak in the knees” or “knocking knees” to denote fear.

In D&C 81:5, the verse might be interpreted as the Lord’s urging Frederick G. Williams to provide strength to the weak (“succor the weak”), to provide encouragement to those who are exhausted or discouraged (“lift up the hands which hang down”), and to give courage and strength to those with feeble knees and fearful hearts.

In March of 1832 when this section was revealed, Church members had reason to be fearful. In Hiram, Ohio, where the Prophet Joseph Smith was living, there was a rising tide of hostility against the Saints. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were brutally attacked by a mob of fifty men.

Those who would destroy at the present time no longer use tar and feathers; they taunt and fault.

Today, almost 160 years later, there is no doubt in my mind that the admonition to strengthen feeble knees is more apropos than ever.

Who among us has not experienced feeble knees or fear and uncertainty over the responsibilities we encounter in this mortal existence?

What of the father, for example, who works long hours to provide for his family only to find at the end of each month that his income only barely meets his expenses? Is he likely to experience the fear that an unforeseen expense might upset his family’s delicately balanced, already strained budget? Does he ever fear that he might not be able to adequately provide for his family’s necessities?

And what of the parents who find themselves rearing an unhappy and nonconforming child? Do they ever experience doubt and fear that they might not be providing the right counsel, discipline, and rules? Do they ever fear they might not be able to provide enough unconditional love to their child? Do they ever fear that the child may be lost eternally because of their parenting?

What of the single parent who is rearing children by himself or herself? Does that parent ever fear that he or she will be overwhelmed by the myriad responsibilities, particularly since these challenges must be met alone?

It would seem that no one escapes some uncertainty, insecurity, doubt, and even fear. This mortal existence is invariably challenging and unpredictable. An honest person who is acquainted with the characteristics of life cannot ever be completely confident that his circumstances will not change unexpectedly.

How do we deal with the inevitable moments of fear or “feeble knees”? It is vital that we not face them alone. Always it is helpful and comforting to be able to confide in a loving and trusted friend or relative who empathetically listens to our uncertainties. We often find that our confidant has experienced similar fears, and we may even share in his wise counsel.

Life is never easy, and we cannot escape our own case of feeble knees from time to time. It is thus essential that we love and support one another.
Marvin J. Ashton, “‘Strengthen the Feeble Knees’,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 70