Over the past few months I’ve been reflecting on the “literal gathering of Israel” (Article of Faith #10). A few questions come to mind when considering this topic: Who is Israel? And why do they need to be gathered?
Israel has historically referred to the “children of Israel” or the descendants of Jacob (the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham). During much of Jacob’s life all of his twelve sons lived with him. However, when his 2nd youngest son Joseph was a teenager, his jealous brothers sold him into slavery, thus creating the first division in the family. This division lasted for some time. During this time Joseph was a slave to the Egyptian Potiphar, served time in prison, and rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt by the time he was in his early 30s. It was because of Joseph’s position that he was able to feed his family when the famine hit. It was during this time that Joseph reunited his family by gathering them to Egypt to share the wealth he had been blessed with.
When Joseph died, a new pharaoh arose who “knew not Joseph”. This new pharaoh enslaved the Israelites for a hundred years or so until Moses was called by God to free them from bondage. Moses was commanded to divide the children of Israel by their tribes. These Twelve Tribes of Israel continued to grow together until the days of Rehoboam (King David’s grandson). During this time the Kingdom of Israel split with the Kingdom of Judah over a taxation dispute. The Kingdom divided further over time with the Ten Tribes going into the “north countries.” The Tribe of Ephraim (Joseph’s son) “mixed himself among the people” and lost its tribal identity. The Tribe of Manasseh (Joseph’s firstborn son) was preserved by Lehi in the North American continent (Genesis 49:22).
Joseph Smith’s calling was to gather these scattered Tribes of Israel so that they might be blessed by the fulness of the gospel. His primary focus seems to have been gathering the Tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Joseph). Ephraim had been scattered into Europe and North America and Manasseh was in North America. Presumably this is why Joseph focused the early missionary efforts on these continents. However, since the blood of Ephraim had been mixed with non-Israelites, the membership of this church which Joseph founded and built up was Gentile in nature and thus it was called the Gentile church and this gathering period was described as the “times of the Gentiles.”
If a Gentile truly converts, he or she becomes a full-blooded Israelite, quite literally. The Prophet Joseph wrote:
“As the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost. In such a case, there may be more of a powerful effect upon the body, and visible to the eye, than upon an Israelite, while the Israelite at first might be far before the Gentile in pure intelligence.”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 149-150)
If the majority of the membership of the church truly went through this conversion process the church would not be a Gentile church, but an Israelite church. However, God knew this was not to be the case and so he prophesied that the Gentiles as a majority would reject the fulness of his gospel and have it taken from them and given to the House of Israel (D&C 45:28-30; 3 Nephi 16:10-15). But didn’t God promise that his Kingdom would never be given to another people? Yes he did. The House of Israel is not another people. They are the Gentiles who accepted the fulness of the gospel and underwent the mighty change to become the literal seed of Abraham. The unchanged Gentiles who reject the gospel are cast off, trodden underfoot, and left behind. This all will happen before the Ten Tribes are reunited with the Tribe of Ephraim. The Tribe of Ephraim must be set in order first, as Ephraim has Joseph’s birthright and his calling is to gather all the other tribes into one, just as Joseph (who also had the birthright) gathered his brothers together.
“What are we to understand by Zion loosing herself from the bands of her neck … ? … We are to understand that the scattered remnants are exhorted to return to the Lord from whence they have fallen; which if they do, the promise of the Lord is that he will speak to them, or give them revelation. … The bands of her neck are the curses of God upon her, or the remnants of Israel in their scattered condition among the Gentiles.”
It is not until the remnant of Israel separate themselves from the Gentiles and gather back together as a body as in the days of Moses that the Lord will speak to them, as he did with Moses. Only then can they return to the Promised Land.