The Gathering of Israel – My Interpretation

Introduction

In recent years, my religious tradition has placed a renewed emphasis on a concept we call the gathering of Israel. Gathering is a core belief in my faith codified succinctly if not slightly confusingly in our tenth of twelve articles of faith, articles that state core tenants of my faith. Like many ideas in religion, everything has a historical, orthodox, fundamentalist, and alternative interpretations and applications. Here I propose a way to interpret gathering that is expansive, inclusive and that speaks to the specific challenges facing people today.

Gathering – Definitions

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.

Article of Faith 10

The word “literal” in this sentence imposes quite a burden. Scripture and theology takes a much richer place in my life as metaphor. I am perfectly free to ignore the “literal” claim imposed by this phrase but perhaps I should at least try to take it seriously as a jumping off point. Israel has a literal meaning in terms of geography, history and people. The twelve tribes of Israel organized originally by Moses and Joshua after they left Egypt, fleeing as slaves. They eventually create a tiny, ancient nation subjected to the forces and temptations of surrounding nations to whom they would ultimately succumb. The Israel nation begins slowly as a set of twelve affiliated tribes governed loosely by different judged until they organize themselves into a kingdom, only to have that kingdom split into two – the Northern/Southern kingdoms. The Old Testament documents the scattering of the Northern tribes by Assyria who most likely assimilated into the surrounding nations, losing their identity as descendants of the Genesis patriarchs and as inheritors of that religious covenant. Judah, Benjamin and remnants of Levi survive through exile, scattering, and violence but continue to this day as a Jewish people with a rich history, theology and an ambition that includes the reconstitution of a Jewish state in Israel.

The Latter Day Saint faith, more so than most Christian traditions, attempts to graft a purely Jewish notion of history and nation into Christianity by claiming its own connection to Jewish heritage. Faithful members receive a patriarchal blessing and as part of that they are assigned membership to one of the twelve tribes. Most are assigned assigned membership to the tribe of Ephraim, one of the lost ten tribes. The tribe of Ephraim, Mormons believe has been designated to gather Israel in the last days. The Book of Mormon, in fact, is record of a remnant of the tribe of Manasseh and will become a key vehicle from which this gathering can occur. These tribal assignments could be literal, but mostly we accept membership through adoption, itself sort of a metaphor of a binding familial tie. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe as adopted members of the tribe of Ephraim, we have been designated to lead the effort of gathering Israel in preparation of the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Current Interpretations

The current prophet and president of the church, President Nelson has placed an emphasis on this gathering. Shortly after being called as prophet, he said to the youth of the church:

My dear young brothers and sisters, these surely are the latter days, and the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!

When we speak of the gathering, we are simply saying this fundamental truth: every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They decide for themselves if they want to know more.

President Nelson

Reading that tenth article of faith is difficult to understand, but here President Nelson simplifies it – gathering is the work of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which involves taking on covenants through ordinances like baptism and temple and then inviting others to do so as well. The additional work of geneology and proxy ordinances is also included in the work of gathering. This definition implies Israel is within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the gathering work amounts to bringing people within this particular church.

I don’t want to extrapolate too much. President Nelson does not necessarily limit gathering to missionary and geneology work, nor did he say explicitly that Israel can only be found within the church he leads. What he says is that this is part of the gathering work, but perhaps a small part of something bigger. And I should hope so. Just like Moses’ Israel was a tiny nation with limited geographical reach, the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a tiny branch within Christianity, a tiny strand within one of a number of other global religious movement. There is no way that the burden of gathering can be born on the shoulders of this church alone.

Is There a Better Interpretation?

Perhaps not a better interpretation, but certainly a more expansive interpretation. To think of what it means so gather, I think it’s helpful to think of what it means to scatter. Perhaps other words might help think about this idea differently – inclusive vs. divisive, building bridges vs. burning them down. In this sense, think of all the ways we scatter, at macro vs micro scale.

Scattering Activities:

  • Rejecting a loved one because they fail to live up to expectations. Kicking a member of the family out because they are gay. Rejecting a family member because of their religious beliefs.
  • Trump supporters who believe Democrats are driving the country to destruction. Democrats who cancel Trump supporters. Cancel culture. Talk of RINO’s.
  • Closed borders. Reducing immigrants wanting to come to America to work in pursuit of a better life as criminals.
  • War
  • The rich who live in housing within gated communities, sending their kids to private schools, and pressuring local governments to defund public schools.
  • Religious claims that elevate one faith over another.
  • Addiction. Excessive online activities. Isolation.

Gathering Activities

  • Interfaith organizations that cooperate to uplift their communities.
  • The rich giving away their resources to uplift marginal people and communities.
  • Bi-partisan efforts to find compromise legislation that includes the concerns and best ideas from both parties.
  • A humble recognition that no single perspective is looking at a complex world without bias and blind spots.
  • A recognition that black lives matter and because they do all lives matter as well.
  • We need to enforce our borders but we also need a robust pathway for continual immigration and we also need legitimate avenues for asylum claims.
  • The best way we can respond to war is to provide a safe haven for those most affected by it – we should be doing all we can to welcome Russian refugees fleeing Putin’s failed leadership.
  • Finding ways to reconcile and include the best ideas of science, art, humanities and religion. The university and the church cooperate in a give and take in search for both truth and the kind of truth that provides meaning and well-being in people’s lives.
  • Yes, we need individual churches to seek converts but we also recognize that different people will find the journey more satisfying in different faiths.
  • So many more ideas.

In Conclusion

The gathering of Israel is another way of pursuing something that has also been part of my faith – establishing Zion, creating a world where division dissolves and inequity disappears. Individuality blends with pluralism to create a world where there are no poor and where everyone can reach their potential as we support and sustain each other even if we don’t always understand or agree with one another. A world where we end exploitation, where we give up on the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake, and a world where we seek abundance broadly shared and broadly enjoyed. This is the work of gathering, and we can’t do it alone. We need everyone.

To bring it back to literal Israel, the Abrahamic covenant, the founding covenant of Israel, was to create a nation founded on the rule of law with a commitment to bless the entire earth. The promises of that covenant still exist but only as we thing bigger. Gathering of Israel means gathering everything that is good, united and linked to nurture and care for all who have been gathered.

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount aZion, and upon her assemblies, a bcloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming cfire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of arefuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

Isaiah 4:5-6

Come Follow Me: Proverbs/Ecclesiastes

Proverbs 1

My summary

We need to seek wisdom and understanding but sometimes this might meen we need to confront ideas that seem like “dark sayings (verse 6). Having a sense of wonder and awe (fear of the Lord) is really a precondition for even starting on the journey of obtaining knowledge (verse 7). We need to pay careful attention to the instruction of our parents and of those from the preceding generation. Their wisdom will adorn our heads with grace (verse 9). We must be careful to avoid those who would entice us toward sin or anything that seeks to gratify our own selfish desires through the exploitation of others. We will be tempted because we live in a world filled with needs. We hunger, we need shelter from at times brutal elements, we need medicine. At times we feel we are at risk of depravity, degradation or isolation and we desperately need comfort and support from others. But choosing a life of sin over wisdom is a trap that will serve us poorly in the end. In fact, if we do reject knowledge, we will do so with wisdom’s ever-present beckoning, imposing its offering upon us at every turn, coming as it does from the pull at our hearts when we feel or experience suffering and injustice, or simply as we notice unread books or an untaken class, or an un-pursued degree. Or when we find ourselves in conversations with others who seem to be further along than us. We can scorn our deficiencies and turn away from these learning opportunities but we do so at our own peril. At some point, our deficiencies will be exposed and we will experience real suffering and it will be too late to really deal with it.

Key verses

  • verse 3-4 subtilty to the simple
  • verse 6 – dark sayings.
  • verse 7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
  • verse 9 – ornaments of grace
  • verse 15 – turn away from evil
  • verse 20 – wisdom crieth without
  • verse 28 – then shall ye call me and I shall not answer

Proverbs 2

Successfully obtaining wisdom requires immense effort and sacrifice. Think of the most precious treasure imaginable, the most desirable riches you could desire, seek for wisdom as if it were more precious than even that (verse 4) and only then will we find the knowledge of God (verse 5). To obtain wisdom requires one to be righteous and requires a person to seek for goodness for its own sake. You cannot obtain it for selfish purposes but only in the service of God and others (verse 6, 7). The pursuit of wisdom is righteousness and pursing righteousness produces wisdom. These principles are mutually reinforcing. Pursing this type of life will be enriching and “pleasant to the soul.” (verse 10).

There’s safety in this type of life. “Discretion preserves, understanding protects” (verse 11). Wickedness is to “forsake the guide of our youth” (verse 17) when we forget the covenant of our God (verse 17). This is deadness in the end. It’s no way to live and worse can be the end of us (verse 22).

Key verses

  • verse 4 Seek knowledge as if it’s silver.
  • verse 5 Understand the fear of the Lord.
  • verse 9 – Understand every good path.
  • verse 17 – Forsake the guide of her youth and the covenants with her God.

Proverbs 3

How do we really learn wisdom? It takes time and effort. We have to find a way to get truths and wisdom bound around our necks and written upon the fleshy tables of our hearts (verse 3). We will never be enough on our own, recognizing that in our journey “we have to trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, leaning not unto our own understanding (verse 5). How do we do that? We need to be ever-willing to recognize our own weakness (verse 7). We cannot get to hung up with our possessions. How do we do that? By donating them to the poor (verse 9, 10). We have to accept correction, recognizing that it’s a sign of love to be cared for, watched after and guided (verse 11-13).

The goal, always is wisdom. Happiness comes through its pursuit (v13). Wisdom is better than anything on earth, more precious than rubies (verse 15). Wisdom is the “tree of life” (verse 18). Creation is possible only through wisdom (verse 19, 20). We can find confidence in the Lord (verse 26). Wisdom requires righteous living so avoid evil (verse 29, 30, 31, 32).

Key verses

  • verse 3 Bind truth and wisdom around thy neck and upon our heart.
  • verse 5-6 Trust the Lord.
  • verse 9 – Honor God through charity.
  • verse 12 – Accept correction, for the Lord loveth who he correcteth.

Proverbs 4

We depend so much on our parent’s instructions. We need to listen for the good doctrine (verse 2), pursue wisdom (verse 5), forget it not (verse 5). Get wisdom, get understanding (verse 7). Exalt it and wisdom shall promote you in turn (verse 8). With understanding we can find straight paths, we can run without stumbling (verse 12). The path of the just is recognizable because it is full of light (verse 18) whereas wickedness is darkness (verse 19).

Proverbs 15

How can we live a good life? Be gentle with others, especially with those who don’t reciprocate it (verse 1). The righteous are pure inside and out and you can see it in the way they talk (verse 2, 4), their tongue is the “tree of life”. You can see it in their willingness to learn from their parents (verse 5), in their willingness to teach others (verse 7), through the way they pray (verse 8), the way they take correction when they make mistakes (verse 10). You can see it in their countenance (verse 13), their attitude toward new knowledge (verse 14), in the way they approach life (verse 15), the way they eat dinner with others (verse 17), the way they treat their parents and others in the preceding generation (verse 20), the way they take counsel (verse 22).
Verse 28 says the righteous studies toward an answer but the wicked just spout off nonsense.

Key verses

  • verse 1 – Soft answers
  • verse 4 – Wholesome tongue
  • verse 7 – Lips of the wise disperse knowledg
  • verse 13 – A merry heart
  • verse 17 – A modest dinner with love.
  • verse 28 – Righteous study to answer

Proverbs 16

The Lord requires effort. Prepare one’s heart (verse 1) and watch our tongue, this is of God. We think we’re clean but the Lord will truly make that judgment and we need to allow that to happen. Our works should be consecrated to God in the service of others (verse 3). Lifting oneself above another and especially above God is wrong. Our only hope is through the mercy and truth of God (verse 6) and its within righteousness we can find peace even with our enemies (verse 7). We should always follow the path of right (verse 8) even when we suffer financially for it. Our heart determines our path, rely on God to establish our path (verse 9). God is just (verse 11). Power ups the ante and those with power have greater responsibility given the influence and impact (verse 12). Wisdom is better than gold (verse 16). Pride will destroy us (verse 18). Be slow to anger (verse 32).

Key verses

  • v2 Everyone thinks they are pure, the Lord knows.
  • v6 Mercy and truth iniquity is purged.
  • v16 Wisdom better than gold.
  • v18 Pride before the fall
  • v19 Better to be humble with the lowly.
  • v32 Slow to anger

Ecclesiastes

1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

2:16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever

3:11 There is a time for everything, but the world is planted in our heart, and it is hopeless to understand it.

3:21-22 There may be nothing else, so enjoy our work now.

5:13-15 A warning against hoarding riches.

5:18-20 Enjoy what you have

6:7 All of our labor is for us to enjoy,

7:2-4 Funerals are better than parties, sorrow better than laughter, better to mourn than to laugh.

7:14 Enjoy prosperity, be mindful during adversity

8:1 A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine.

8:17 There are things we will never be able to come close to understand.

9:9 Live life joyfully with those you love while your alive. That is our work.

9:11 Everything we get i by chance.

10: 16 Woe to the world when the king is a child

10:20 No matter what, curse not the king, curse not the rich, a bird shall carry thy voice…

11: 5,6 We don’t know anything so just work.

12:1 Remember God

12:13 Fear God and keep his commandments, that is all we can do.