Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #40 "Then Will I Gather Them In'

3 Nephi 16; 20-21


The Chosen People

On the second day of his visit to America, Christ talked about his covenants with the House of Israel, and told the Nephites that they were included in the family of Abraham.

”And behold, this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you… ”And behold, ye are the children  of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” (3 Nephi 20:22, 25) 

So today we are going to discuss why this was important, and what relevance it has to us.
           
Ask your class: By show of hands, how many of you in this class are members of the House of Israel, descendants of Abraham? If your hand isn’t up, raise it.  Being a member of the Church means being of the House of Israel.  When any member of the Church receives a patriarchal blessing, he finds out which of the tribes of the house of Israel he belongs to. 
           
The Lord made a marvelous covenant with Abraham.  How did this Abrahamic Covenant come to pass? What is necessary to receive any blessing or revelation of the Lord?  Desire, of course!  And worthiness.  

And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” (Abraham 1:2)  

Abraham had been “a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge,” but he was not content with this level of spirituality (remember last week’s lesson?) and he desired to be a “greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God,” therefore, he received the Priesthood, the “right of the firstborn.”  ”I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.”  (Abraham 1:4) 

After receiving the Priesthood, because of his faith and desire, the Lord made a covenant with Abraham.  Because of this covenant, the House of Israel, or the descendants of Abraham, have been called the Chosen People.

Blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant

1)      LAND: A promised land (Genesis 13:14-15; 3 Nephi 20:14)
2)      SEED:  A great posterity (Genesis 13:16; Abraham 2:9)
3)      PRIESTHOOD:  The Priesthood and its attached gospel (Abraham 2:9)
4)      MINISTRY TO THE WORLD:  The opportunity/ability to share all this with all the families of the earth (Abraham 2:10-11; 3 Nephi 20:25)

Foreordination to the House of Israel

Let’s discuss why these people were favored of the Lord.  If we imagine that it’s just by luck that any given person was born into the family of Abraham, then God is a respecter of persons.  But it isn’t just luck.  It’s a grand foreordination.  Elder Melvin J. Ballard said that Israel is “a group of souls tested, tried, and proven before they were born into the world…Through this lineage were to come the true and tried souls that had demonstrated their righteousness in the spirit world before they came.”  (quoted in Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word, p. 212)  Therefore—and here I’m quoting Robert Millet—when the Patriarch declares your lineage in your patriarchal blessing, it is “as much a statement about who and what we were as it is about who we are now and what we may become.”  (The Power of the Word, p. 213)

The Responsibilities of the Chosen People

Elder Russell M. Nelson has said, “Once we know who we are and the royal lineage of which we are a part, our actions and directions in life will be more appropriate to our inheritance.”  (The Power of the Word, p. 214) I think this is why Christ spent so much time talking about the covenant with the Nephites.

A previous group of Nephites felt that they were a chosen people, only they had the idea twisted.  As you recall, the Zoramites had a podium in their chapel called the Rameumptom which had room for only one person on top of it. The person on the top would offer the prayer recorded in Alma 31:15-18, wherein they would say, “We believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren…we believe that thou has elected us to be they holy children…thou hast elected us that we shall be saved whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell…And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.”
           
To the Zoramites, being a chosen people meant exclusivity.  It meant being elevated, like on a spiritual Rameumptom, with no room for anyone else to join them.  It meant a separation between them and everyone else.  I think that many of the Jews in Jerusalem at Christ’s time felt the same way.  But this is not how the Chosen People should feel.
           
Kent Jackson, associate professor of ancient scriptures at Brigham Young University, says, “Since the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when gospel blessings have been on the earth, they have been made available through the House of Israel.  Thus, Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants are a chosen people. They are chosen not because they have an easier path to salvation, or because God loves them more than other people.  They are chosen to service, in the same sense that individual Latter-day Saints are chosen for callings in the Church.” (Ensign, February 1990, p. 53)

FINDING OTHERS ONCE YOU ARE FOUND

An excellent example of members of the House of Israel gathering a new member into the fold in the year 1946 is found in the story, “Soldiers Were My Missionaries,” told by Kenneth D. Newman (Ensign, February 1990, pp. 47-49)  (You may, however, have equally uplifting stories of "gathering" among your own ward members, if you ask.  You can use this one as a back-up, or in case you have extra time.)

 
I don't have any pictures from 1946, 
but here's one from 2010:
 Army Basic Training Graduation 
at Fort Benning, Georgia

“Serving in the United States Army was a great opportunity for me, in view of the rich friendships I made, the goals I began to perceive for myself, and most important—exposure to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ…

“Two enlisted men from Utah gave freely of their time and shared their testimonies of the gospel. They made available many books dealing with the restored church…My LDS friends in the service also conducted some study meetings in the barracks…"

 Army Barracks at Fort Benning, Georgia

“One evening during an instruction period, one of the elders said to me, after discussing Joseph Smith’s vision and the Word of Wisdom, ‘Wouldn’t you like to know for yourself, as we know, that our message of the Restoration is true? Surely you don’t want to sit on the fence for the rest of your life, wondering whether it is true.’

“I guess I replied in a rather noncommittal way. They then bore strong personal witness and made a specific challenge to me concerning the Word of Wisdom. One said, “I promise you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that if you will make the attempt to stop smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages, and if you will pray about our message, the sure knowledge will be given you by the Spirit.

“The witness and the promise were too much for me to ignore. I tried to dismiss the urgings, and tossed that night in my bunk. I had seen these young men kneel nightly at their bunks, even when all kinds of distractions surrounded them, to pray fervently. I had observed how they faithfully sent home to their bishops that small part of an enlisted man’s modest pay in tithing. I had measured their behavior against the rest of us, their clean living habits and their wholesome attitude about their assignments; and I felt the bonds of our friendship and love…

“As I served as battery clerk for our battalion, it seemed every visitor to our headquarters office that morning was giving instead of ‘bumming’ cigarettes. I had to say no many times. During lulls in the work, I would find myself reaching for the shirt pocket where the cigarettes were always kept. I paced and swore. By noon I figured a few ‘drags’ on one cigarette couldn’t hurt. I went to the recreation room to light up, only to find the elders there, having sought me out to lend encouragement to my attempts to stop smoking. I later learned they were fasting for my success…

“But prayer finally won out. I dropped to my knees and asked for help and enlightenment—to know whether Joseph Smith, Jr., was visited by the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. I waited; nothing happened. The fog was damp and chilling. The rocks hurt my knees. The thought passed through my mind, ‘It’s the same. My prayer isn’t going to have any different result than all the others through the years. I’m not going to get an answer.’ I arose.

But at that moment I felt a surge of energy pass over me, through me, around me, until I dropped back upon my knees. The feeling intensified, subsided, repeated its motion, lifting me seemingly, gently receding, then pressing forward again. My entire being seemed filled with this sweetness. I let it happen. For a time I felt like I was a part of the ocean—the rhythm was the same. I seemed purged of all ugliness and doubt, and they were replaced with the witness of the Holy Ghost. It was not a momentary lapse into nothingness, but an extended period of enlightenment. I wanted the experience to stay with me, to sustain me, and for a long while I remained on my knees.

“When finally I arose, new waves of spiritual strength enveloped me, and I began walking, first hesitantly, then briskly, and finally I ran back to the barracks, up the stairs, two or three at a time, and burst into the large room where we bunked. I sought out the elders and told them I knew for myself about Joseph’s first vision and mission. It was a hallowed time.

“One of them said, ‘We’ve got to get you baptized.’…

“Nothing I have ever done, nothing I have ever learned in college and years of applied working skills can compare to the simple truth that I learned that night in prayer; and no decision I have ever made in life—in family, in church, in business—compares to that decision to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have never made so wise and so fulfilling a choice.”

Conclusion

“Those of Israel who follow the Light of Christ in this life will be led eventually to the higher light of the Holy Ghost and will come to know and come unto him.  In time they come to know of their noble heritage and of the royal blood that flows through their veins.  They come to earth with a predisposition to receive truth, with an inner attraction to the message of the gospel.  ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ the Master said, ‘and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27)”  (Robert Millet, p. 214)  

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that my people shall know my name; yea, in that day they shall know that I am he that doth speak.”  (3 Nephi 20:39)

It is our responsibility as found members of the House of Israel to find the others who are literal descendants of the family.  W. J. Cameron said, “God’s grading is always upward.  If He raises up a nation, it is that other nations may be raise up through its ministry…The divine selection is not a prize, a compliment paid to the man or the race—it is a burden imposed.” (ibid., p. 214)

But it is a glorious and joyful burden.  

And then shall they say: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings unto them, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings unto them of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!” (3 Nephi 20:40)

(I took the photographs in this blog post and hold the copyright.  You are free to use them for any teaching purpose.)

(For a little more on the Abrahamic Covenant, see Old Testament Lesson #7.)

2 comments:

Michaela Stephens said...

Good post. I've been thinking alot about this topic myself. I'm trying to get a better sense of my mission and blessings as part of the house of Israel.

Reid Litchfield said...

Thanks Nancy. Once again a very good approach to this material.