The Book of Mormon as a Key to the Gathering of Israel and Judah
Posted by joespencer on January 22, 2014
The following is a guest post by Gregorio Billikopf, who has posted here at Feast on occasion. Our thanks to Gregorio for sending it along.
My paternal grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew; my grandmother a German Jew. My maternal grandparents were both Chilean (mostly Spanish but with some Inca and Chilean native blood). I was born and raised in Chile and attended a Catholic school in Santiago. As a youth I often felt that the Lord’s true Church would be a missionary one. I was converted and baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1974, after reading the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ. It was the Book of Mormon that compelled me to go back and become more interested in my Jewish roots and study the great promises made to the children of Israel in the Holy Bible, and most especially in Isaiah and the Prophets. It was while reading in the Book of Mormon that the words of our Savior sank deep in my heart: “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yeah, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1).
The Jews divide the Holy Scriptures or Tanach into three discrete categories: The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Prophets, or NEVI’IM, are full of allusions to the Torah and Writings. So when we read: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land” (Ezekiel 37:21b), this is code for some very specific promises made in the Torah regarding both the scattering and the gathering of Israel. Promises that are underscored throughout the Holy Scriptures.
Blessings and Cursing
In prophecy, one often sees the development of ideas, line upon line, and precept upon precept. The promises associated with the scattering and gathering of Israel are found in their most extensive detail, in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30, even though many of these ideas were mentioned earlier. I call these chapters Rain in Due Season.
Indeed, the Lord promised Israel rain in due season if she would walk in His paths and turn her heart towards Him. In an ancient agronomical society, rain in due season meant the difference between plentiful crops and famine. Thus we also read: “prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10b). These blessings, of course, are not only material but also spiritual ones.
Israel would be blessed if she was faithful and true: “Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out” (Deuteronomy 28:6). The complete list is extensive and very specific, but none greater than a promise that the Lord would establish His covenant with the people of Israel (Leviticus 26:9b), such that “I [the Lord] will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12b).
If Israel would not be obedient, unspeakable curses would befall her. For our purposes, we shall only focus on two. First, “And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 28:64a). Second, the heavens would be shut down—and this refers to cessation of revelation from God, just as much as literal rain: “And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass” (Deuteronomy 28:23a). And, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11).
In his mercy, and foreknowledge, the Lord made provisions for the repentance of the children of Jacob. In one of the most moving verses in Scripture we read: “And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deuteronomy 30:1-6). But before we continue with the marvelous work and a wonder (Isaiah 29:14) to be brought about by the restoration, let us briefly review the history of Israel.
Israel’s Civil War
For the longest time, Israel was disobedient to the Lord “for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face” (Jeremiah 2:27b). At every moment we continually make the decision to שׁוּב (SHUV), that is, to turn or return towards the Lord, or to give Him our back. At the time of King David’s grandson, that of King Rehoboam, Israel was split in two by a civil war. This sad turn of events was a result of the iniquity that existed from the very top down, from king to dignitary, from the common man to the false prophet. In the words of Isaiah, “Therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day. The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail” (Isaiah 9:14-15).
The story of the actual split is interesting. Jeroboam came to King Rehoboam and demanded, on behalf of the northern ten tribes, better treatment. Jeroboam said: “Thy father [i.e., King Solomon] made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.” (1 Kings 12:4). King Rehoboam acted wisely in asking for three days to think things over and give a proper response. He first sought the advice of the older men. They provided wise counsel: “If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever” (1 Kings 12:7).
Rehoboam forsook the advice of the older men for that of the youth who had been his contemporaries. The latter advised that he speak to the people roughly, saying: “My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:10b-11). Some have suggested that scorpions were whips with sharp flesh-tearing objects embedded in them. At any rate, the forceful answer was disastrous: “So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David” (1 Kings 12:16a). The united nation of twelve tribes ceased to be.
The ten tribes to the north were now governed by King Jeroboam, and they retained the title of Israel. They were also known by their most prominent tribe, Ephraim, as well as by their capital, Samaria. Meanwhile, King Rehoboam was able to preserve the remaining two tribes (Judah and Benjamin). They were referred to by the name of Judah, their most preeminent tribe, and sometimes by Jerusalem, their capital. A hatred and jealousy developed between the northern and southern tribes. In Isaiah 19:21, we read of the hatred felt by the north for Judah, as well as the internal squabbles between Ephraim and Manasseh. The outlook was bleak, to be sure.
The downward spiral could be traced to an earlier time. Saul was made king because the children of Jacob rejected Jehovah as her King in preference for an earthly sovereign. The people wanted to be like all the nations who surrounded them. Samuel the Prophet felt rejected by the children of Israel in this thing. The Lord permitted the people to have their agency: “And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee [i.e., give them the king that they think they want]: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).
Righteous Migrate to Jerusalem
While both nations did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, at first the Ephramites were much more evil than Judah. Jeroboam, King of Ephraim (i.e., northern ten tribes), built a false altar and ordained a false priesthood (1 Kings 12:26-31). The most righteous who lived within the territories of Ephraim began to migrate south to Jerusalem, and thus we read: “Out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the LORD God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 11:16b).
It is possible that Lehi’s family migrated to Jerusalem as early as this time. Lehi’s family heritage was of the tribe of Manasseh (Alma 10:3) while Ishmael’s was of the tribe of Ephraim (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:141). We also read of the presence of Ephraim, and Manasseh in Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 9:3.
The exodus of the righteous down to Judah left Ephraim an even more idolatrous state. The Lord sent prophets to warn both nations. Among the prophets sent to warn Ephraim, was Hosea. The Prophet Hosea was asked to call his son Lo-ammi (לֹא, LO, not; עַמִּי, Ammi, my people): “Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9).
Scattering of Israel
Ephraim was now at the verge of being taken captive by Assyria and being scattered all over Europe, Asia and Africa. They would come to be called the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The Lord’s tender mercies are such, and despite what has just been said, His love for Israel is so powerful, that once again tenderness is promised: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:10). We might say with Alma, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20). What a promise, in the latter days it would be said to Israel, “Ye are the sons of the living God.”
Judah’s capture would follow soon, as she became less willing to follow the Lord. Ezekiel speaks of Ephraim and Judah as two sisters of the world, competing to outdo each other. He calls Samaria (capital of Ephraim) Aholah, and Jerusalem (capital of Judah), Aholibah (Ezekiel 23:4 ff.). Soon after the captivity of Ephraim the Babylonians took Judah captive.
Lehi’s family had escaped Jerusalem on time, and with the help of God, made sea vessels to travel to the American continent. Although they lived in Jerusalem, we have said they were descendants of Joseph. While much of Judah never returned to the land of Israel, after seventy years of captivity there was a remnant who did return, and out of this remnant Messiah would be born there. After Christ’s death, Judah was scattered once again. In contrast to the lost ten tribes, much of Judah was able to retain her national identity. From the Book of Mormon, we read that there is a portion of the lost ten tribes who has also kept a record (2 Nephi 29:12-13) which we will have in due time.
One way or the other, then, the children of Jacob were scattered to every continent, island of the sea, and corner of the earth. Her blood would be mingled with those of all the people upon the earth. In Genesis 22:18a Abraham was told: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” One of the ways this would take place is that Israel’s blood would run through all of His children. Of course, there are peoples through which the blood of Israel runs more purely and concentrated. All of these thoughts bring us to the gathering of Israel; the dispensation of the fullness of times, prophesied by the ancient prophets.
Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?
When the missionaries introduce the Book of Mormon, they are often asked, “Why do we need another book beside the Bible?” This very question, along with its answer, is found in the Bible. Ezekiel is one of several prophets who speak of the Book of Mormon (Ezekiel 37:15-28).
Ezekiel explains, “The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Moreover, thou son of man” —the Lord lovingly called Ezekiel son of man. “Moreover, thou son of man take thee one stick, and write upon it,” —the word עֵץ (IETZ) translated as stick in our KJV, means tree, or in this context, rather, wood (Gesenius, BDB, HALOT]. For instance, LHI Bible (see also 1587 Geneva Bible) translates the word עֵץ as “[a piece of] wood.” In the Targum of Ezekiel the meaning is even clearer, “take one tablet [LUJA—Spanish j, לוּחָא] and engrave upon it” (Targum Jonathan to the Prophets).
It is clear that we have a piece of writing material here, whether wood, metal, or other material. So, “take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions.” This is to symbolize the book that would come down to us through Judah, the Holy Bible. “Then take another stick [עֵץ, or tablet in Aramaic, לוּחָא], and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and for all the house of Israel his companions.”
Beside the Holy Bible we have another book that would be engraved, one that would proceed from Joseph—or Ephraim. This is the Book of Mormon. “And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.” These two books, the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon would become as one witness, united. Yes, these two engraved holy books would also come to be carried together. Now we come to the question alluded to before. “And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?” Note the expression בְּנֵי עַמְּךָ (BENEI AMJA, Spanish j), the children of thy people. This is because the Book of Mormon will be taken to the children of Israel.
Most of the children of Israel, except the Jewish people, do not realize their heritage. The gospel of Jesus Christ will be accepted, generally, first by Ephraim (and I suspect Manasseh is implied also) and eventually by all of the other tribes of Israel and finally, by Judah. Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses 2:268-269, 8 April 1855) and Joseph Fielding Smith (Doctrines of Salvation 3:246) made it clear that the majority who accept the Gospel are literal descendants of Israel.
The children of Jacob would ask for an explanation. What does this mean? Why do we have two books? After the question that would be posed we find the answer. “Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes.” It is clear that the Lord himself is bringing them together for a wise purpose.
What is that purpose? “And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land.” As soon as we hear these words, “I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen,” we think back to the Rain in Due Season promises. The expression translated as the heathen (HA-Goyim, הַגּוֹיִם) in our KJV, is an interesting one. Sometimes the very same word Goyim is translated as heathen, gentiles, or nations. It often means gentile nations. So it is that the Lord will gather Israel from among all the nations. But how will this be done? What does it have to do with the two books?
These books are the means whereby Israel will be gathered from among the nations. And something truly beautiful will take place. The Bible is full of promises toward the children of Israel, as is the Book of Mormon. The very purpose of the Book of Mormon, as explained by the ancient prophet who inscribed its title page, is for “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST.”
Here is one sample as the resurrected Lord spoke to a remnant of Joseph in the American continent: “Ye remember that I spake unto you, and said that when the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled—behold they are written, ye have them before you, therefore search them—And verily, verily, I say unto you, that when they shall be fulfilled then is the fulfilling of the covenant which the Father hath made unto his people, O house of Israel. And then shall the remnants, which shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth, be gathered in from the east and from the west, and from the south and from the north; and they shall be brought to the knowledge of the Lord their God, who hath redeemed them” (3 Nephi 20:11-13). Furthermore we read: “And I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people [i.e., Israel]; and I have covenanted with them that I would gather them together in mine own due time, that I would give unto them again the land of their fathers for their inheritance, which is the land of Jerusalem, which is the promised land unto them forever, saith the Father” (3 Nephi 20:29).
The enmity between the tribes of Israel will cease and shall once again become one nation. “And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel.” The term ‘mountains’ is both literal, referring to the hilly country, and spiritual—the latter pointing to the temple.
It is Ephraim who will have the great blessing and responsibility for beginning the process of gathering the rest of the tribes, including Judah. In Isaiah 18 we read in great detail how missionaries will leave the American continent and help gather Israel and Judah back to the land of Israel and back to the temple: “In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled [i.e., scattered and removed], and from a people terrible from their beginning [i.e., this is what Israel was called by the surrounding nations after its return from Egypt] hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled [i.e., a reference to invading armies that invaded Israel, e.g., see Isaiah 8:7-8], to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion [i.e., a reference to the temple and to the land of Israel]” (Isaiah 18:7).
And Messiah their King
Returning to Ezekiel, “and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.” No more would there be a northern and southern kingdom, no more Ephraim and Judah as nations who hated each. These two nations would now be governed by one king. The next verse speaks of the grace that would be poured upon the children of Jacob, so that they would be able to combat sin and be cleansed and saved through the expiatory sacrifice of the Messiah. “Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them.”
And now the words which all who have embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ have been waiting for, the Lord says: “so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.” In His mercy, the everlasting covenant has been restored once again. But who is this king who shall do such wonderful things? It is King Messiah. “And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.” When we read of this second David, we know at once it refers to no ordinary man, but to the Messiah or Christ. In Jeremiah we read, “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 33:15, see also 23:5).
Other references include: “But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30:9); “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.” (Ezekiel 34:23-23), “Afterward shall the children of Israel return (YASHUVU,יָשֻׁבוּ), and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and his goodness in the latter days” (Hosea 3:5). This יָשֻׁבוּ (YASHUVU) is not only a physical one, but a spiritual one in which people return to the Lord.
Why David? King David of old was the first, after Moses and Joshua, to truly bring the hearts of all the tribes together knit as one. More importantly, of the Davidic line would be born Messiah, Jesus the Christ. He was often called, “Son of David.” All of these references to a latter-day David who would reign over Israel, then, are allusions to Messiah. “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.” The land spoken of here is the land of Israel, of course. But the land of Israel shall “be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants” (Isaiah 49:19b). In addition, the Lord would give to Joseph another choice land, in the “everlasting hills” that would be found “over the wall” or the ocean, even the American continent (see Joseph’s patriarchal blessing, Genesis 49:22-26).
We hear more about the restored gospel and the everlasting covenant: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.” Once again, the Lord would establish His temple upon the earth: “My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is a double blessing, and a sure blessing, for it is mentioned twice. Other prophets also bear witness of the same: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness” (Zechariah 8:7-8)
All of the nations shall know that Israel was not discarded by Her Lord, “And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” So, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). The witness of the Book of Mormon loudly proclaims the divinity of the Savior, and help us better understand many of the promises found in the Bible. Above all, these two tomes invite all to come unto Christ. We exclaim, with the Psalmist, “Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalms 106:1).
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