Why are the 12 tribes of Israel important?

Mormon Hereticapostasy, Bible, mormon, racism, scripture, theology 37 Comments

The LDS Church has a list of 13 general beliefs, which was composed by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s. It does not cover everything the church believes, but is a good guide. In the 10th article of faith, it states, “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes”.

First of all, why do we care about the 10 tribes? None of them appeared to have any redeeming value. Israel (Jacob) had 10 juvenile delinquent sons, who tried to kill their own brother Joseph. One of these sons slept with someone he thought was a prostitute, who turned out to be his sister. Other sons slaughtered an entire group of people who had just been circumcised.

As time moved on, we learn the 12 tribes of Israel split into a northern and southern kingdom. The northern kingdom pretty much was wicked the whole time, while the southern kingdoms of Judah and Benjamin were wicked most of the time, but had more periods of obeying God.

I just don’t understand why these tribes are supposed to be held in esteem, because it really doesn’t appear to me that they were ever worthy of the blessings of the Lord. Everything they do in the Bible appears to show that they were generally wicked. I know that God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would have posterity without number, but if the children were so wicked, do they merit more consideration than any other group of people?

So I have 3 questions:

(1) Why does anyone care about the lost 10 tribes?  (Or does anybody care any more?)
(2) Why is this restoration of the lost 10 tribes even mentioned in the 10th article of faith?
(3) If God is no respecter of persons, do the lost 10 (or 12) tribes merit more consideration by God than any other group of people?

Comments 37

  1. I can only address the third question. Based on my reading of 1 Nephi 17, Israel at time of the Exodus merited more consideration than the inhabitants of the promised land because, despite their flaws, they were the more righteous group. (I have clarified the pronouns in the following excerpt.)

    32 And after they [our fathers] had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction.
    33 And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
    34 Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they [the children of the land] if they [the children of the land] had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.
    35 Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people [the children of the land] had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.

  2. (1) I suppose JS was interested in the 10 tribes because he viewed the Abrahamic covenant literally, and knew of many biblical prophecies that talked of a regathering.

    (2) The gathering was mentioned in the 10th article of faith because JS and the early Church were intensely millenarian. They most likely believed that the Second Coming was imminent (as in, within their lifetimes), and therefore pre-millennial biblical prophecy–requiring literal fulfillment–was constantly on their minds. I imagine they got a lot more talk of Christ’s return in their sermons and such than we do today.

    (3) I think the concept of God as “no respector of persons” was meant to affirm an egalitarian flavor among the tribes of Israel, in that no man among “God’s chosen people” would be esteemed by God above any other (although many biblical stories might question this premise, particularly as Israelite history moves from tribal leadership with judges to consolidated empire with powerful kings). Later in the NT, BoM, and D&C, the expression “no respector of persons” was applied more widely to include all people on the earth, regardless of whether they were literal children of Israel or not. But certainly YHWH was the God of the children of Israel, and according to the biblical literary tradition, YHWH favored the Israelites over Canaaanites, Philistines, Egyptians, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, etc. The list goes on. The Bible functions as a proof text of YHWH’s singular power over all other “gods”, as well as His divine favor of the children of Israel stemming from the covenant made to Abraham, and by extension, to Isaac and Jacob (Israel). JS was exceptionally clever in reconciling God’s favoritism to the children of Israel (as depicted in the OT) with His outreach to Gentiles (beginning in the Apostolic period after Christ’s resurrection) by proclaiming that all people baptized into Christ’s Church in the latter days were “adopted” into the House of Israel, and thereby privy to the same covenantal blessings and favoritism of God. In a sense, then, perhaps the growth of the latter-day Church can be seen as a “gathering” of the lost 10 tribes, and a restoration of blessings to them. Despite the fact that most of Joseph’s brothers are depicted as curs, God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Israel overrides their unworthy actions. Also, surely, these tribal fathers had kids who _did_ obey the LORD.

  3. Post

    Last Lemming, that is an interesting take, but I guess I have two problems with it. I posted previously on Joshua’s Holy War, about whether God would really command genocide. I find that highly problematic. While I know Nephi didn’t have the same sense of ethics that modern people do, I still find it problematic.

    Secondly, even if we are to accept Nephi’s supposition that the Canaanites were wicked of child sacrifice, and other heinous acts, it is clear that later the Northern and Southern Kingdom were also guilty of child sacrifice as well. See my post on Abraham.

  4. Post

    One other thing to add here. Nephi and Lehi were contemporaries with Jeremiah, who was condemning child sacrifice. In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech “had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination.”

    While the scriptures show that the Canaanites were wicked, if the 12 Tribes were guilty of the same problems, it seems like God is still more forgiving to the Tribes than Canaanites.


    I looks like we posted almost simultaneously.

    I agree with your answer to (1) and (2). It is evident to me that Smith believed the Lamanites were descended from the lost tribes, so the whole subject of lost tribes was much more important to the early church than it is today. I wonder why the subject is not talked about anymore. Is it just too speculative? Certainly, there are still lessons on the Second Coming, which are just as speculative in nature.

    I think you explain (3) well as to their understanding of how the tribes were “more equal” than other people. However, don’t you find this problematic with out current understanding of “respector of persons” to include all people, not just Israel? The Bible really wants to exclude the Arabs from “chosen” status as well. Isn’t this a form of discrimination and/or racism?

  5. My guess is that the 10 tribes were emphasized because Joseph Smith and many other religious folk thought the Second Coming was imminent, and according to Biblical prophesy, there had to be a gathering of the 10 tribes before his coming. A point of debate in his day among the various denominations was whether that was a literal or spiritual gathering. So the 10th Article of Faith makes clear where the Mormons stood on what was then perceived as an important event preceding the Second Coming.

    Personally, I have a hard time understanding why God would choose to work through chosen bloodlines. It seems the idea of special or pure bloodlines is something that probably resulted from the fact that for millennia civilizations were very agrarian. And when you have agrarian economies where the raising of livestock, which is naturally very concerned with purity of special bloodlines, was familiar to everyone, that same concept of prize blood or pure blood in animals was projected onto humans. From their point of view, it’s not an irrational extension of a known fact that exists in the animal: the strength and health and quality of animals is largely determined by their genetic heritage, or in simplest terms, their blood. So why not make the same assumption for human beings? Hence the Bible’s emphasis on bloodlines and lineage.

    This is all complete speculation on my part but it seems reasonable to me.

    Anyone interested in the topic of the LDS doctrines about lineage and bloodlines and how they’ve evolved over more than a century should read Armand Mauss’ book “All Abraham’s Children.”

  6. v. 35 “He that is righteous is favored of God.” That’s a great principle.
    regarding the original questions:
    1) We (as a church) care because many events of the last days involve the 10 tribes. (Coming from the North, adding their scriptures to ours, building the New Jerusalem, etc.) Also, the whole “gathering of Israel” theme is central to the Gospel, especially for the first 100 years of the church’s history.

    2)The 10th article of faith is really about the Millennium. To Joseph Smith, this consisted of three key events: (a) Restoration of the Ten Tribes, (b) Building the temple in Jackson County, and (c) Restoring the earth to be like the Garden of Eden. So the ten tribes are mentioned only because they relate to the millenium.

    3) There was some speculation (in MoDoc and Doc. of Sal.) that being born into the House of Israel was a blessing for pre-mortal righteousness. Therefore, God gives those “of the covenant” more chances because they earned them before being born. This line of reasoning seems perilously close to the (now repudiated) justifications for Blacks not holding the priesthood, so maybe this entire line of thinking is way off-base.

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    Regarding the Gathering of the 10 Tribes, a Jewish filmmaker has made some circumstantial links to finding the lost tribes. I did a post on his film Quest for the Lost Tribes, where he believes he has found some all of the lost tribes in China, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Burma (tribe of Manasseh was claimed to be found there) and a few other places that escape me. Could DNA provide the evidence we need to gather the lost tribes before the Second Coming?

  8. Andrew (#5): Good point about bloodlines. Bloodlines are indeed important, especially for the concept of “inheritance”. A wealthy man with hundreds of heads of livestock (such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, et al.) needed to be certain about the paternity of his children, who would one day inherit his “estate”. Being a wealthy person and childless would pose a major inheritance problem. God’s promise of posterity assures that inheritance of the wealth of blessings given to Abraham would be perpetuated both literally and symbolically through the ages. The concept of inheritance is still of major importance in our own theology: we seek to become joint-heirs with Christ of salvation in the “kingdom” of God, and await our own “kingdoms, dominions, principalities”, mansions, and other symbols of wealth and power given to heirs.

    MH: “Isn’t this a form of discrimination and/or racism?” I didn’t say I liked it, but as I’m sure you know and understand, the Bible wasn’t written by individuals with the same sense of morality and ethics as contemporary society. The OT clearly favors the children of Israel by repeatedly showing how they are inheritors of God’s favor and blessings (and chastisements, but always in the concept of course correction back to the path of YHWH and His ultimate triumph over oppressors). The NT does well to show how Jesus reaches out to expand God’s love and outreach to all humanity.

    So we’re all good, right, because the NT proclaims the availability of Gospel blessings to all people everywhere? Almost. The emphasis on Abrahamic covenants, the revitalization of the concept of a “chosen people” identified with the children of Israel all reintroduce the favoritism of God onto the scene in the latter days, but with a slight twist. Whereas Abraham was given an immutable, everlasting blessing of posterity, Lehi’s similar blessing was conditional upon righteousness. That same condition has been applied in the current Church’s concept of favoritism by deity: we become inheritors of the blessings of Abraham only as we keep commandments and live up to covenants. This democratizes God’s favor by availing the blessings to all people, but limits it to those who do their part. God is therefore able to have a “chosen people” upon whom He will bestow all the blessings of inheritance, but this people isn’t based on literal blood as much as personal worthiness (not to get too crazy on symbolic parallels, but these worthy people could be seen as somehow replacing their own non-special blood, with that of Christ’s through partaking of the bread and wine(water)). Still, all the prophecies and promises of the chosen people from the OT can therefore be transferred to the “chosen people” today.

  9. Andrew,

    From their point of view, it’s not an irrational extension of a known fact that exists in the animal: the strength and health and quality of animals is largely determined by their genetic heritage, or in simplest terms, their blood.

    The quality of animals is indeed largely determined by genetic heritage, but what that really means is that “impure” bloodlines are often superior to “pure” ones. Quite often, “pure” bloodlines mean inbred and thus inferior bloodlines. One need only look at the genetic wrecks that so many American dog breeds have become to see proof of this.

    That’s not to say, of course, that the now scientifically discredited idea of “pure” bloodlines as superior can’t have been influential in the development of Mormon ideas about the 12 Tribes.

  10. Post


    we become inheritors of the blessings of Abraham only as we keep commandments and live up to covenants.

    So then, since the 10 tribes were obviously not worthy to be inheritors of the blessing of Abraham and were scattered due to unrighteousness, why does God care to gather them? If God only covenants with righteous people, the 10 tribes broke that covenant 2600 years ago. Why do they need to be gathered again? To fulfill prophecy is a nice answer, but if they aren’t worthy, then fulfilling prophecy seems kind of arbitrary, doesn’t it?

  11. With all the early Mormon emphasis on descendancy from and/or adoption into the House of Israel, it’s a bit of a wonder that we don’t more discussion of being “cut off” therefrom. We see that phrase used to denote being removed from the LDS church, and even denied the celestial kingdom, but not in terms of Israelite identity. Early leaders (i.e. Brigham Young) famously taught that when a man outside the lineage of Israel was baptized, their blood would literally be changed within their veins, and a visible, physical transformation would take place as the “gentile” miraculously became an Israelite. It would have been consistent, and no less sensational, to claim that “apostates” and excommunicants are “un-adopted” or “disinherited” from the House of Israel, followed by a similar physically-manifest transformation.

    Given the racial teachings of the time, together with Brigham Young’s tendency toward extreme preaching (can we say “Mormon Reformation?”), it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had said that “apostates” and excommunicants were adopted into the lineage of Cain, complete with a change in skin color.

  12. #7:
    Could DNA provide the evidence we need to gather the lost tribes before the Second Coming?

    Well, DNA seems to have worked REALLY well in terms of identifying Native Americans as “lost tribes of Israel” descendants! (cough)

  13. #9:
    The quality of animals is indeed largely determined by genetic heritage, but what that really means is that “impure” bloodlines are often superior to “pure” ones. Quite often, “pure” bloodlines mean inbred and thus inferior bloodlines.

    Wow…what a comment on the general authorities of today (see past post on nepotism).

  14. Nick,

    lol, but they probably have a gene pool large enough to maintain genetic health. One hopes. 😉

    Come to think of it, though, I remember reading that inbreeding and consequent genetic defects are a problem in some of the fundamentalist Mormon groups.

  15. MH: Good point. I don’t have a clear answer that doesn’t reinterpret the term “literal gathering”. If we interpret the “literal gathering” to be those who have accepted the Gospel through baptism into Christ’s Church in the latter days, and if we buy that this acceptance constitutes adoption into the HoI, the it could “literally” be fulfilled.

    About breaking the covenant: the children of Israel appear to have transgressed Torah many times over the course of the OT, and Jesus highlights their divergence from God’s laws (Torah _and_ the spirit of the law) in the NT, but the thing about Abraham’s covenant is that it isn’t conditional: Abraham is promised boundless posterity and blessings without stipulation. This form of covenant seems to imply that it will not be revoked, even by transgression of posterity. If we accept this, then somehow Abraham’s seed will continue to be the beneficiaries of the Lord’s promise regardless of what they do (including killing the Son of God).

    I think that it is only in our day that the promises extended to Abraham’s seed became available to all people, regardless of parentage. But this availability is conditional upon personal righteousness. Higher stakes, for sure. But back to the “no respector of persons” thing, I think that phrase is meant to connote that every person will be judge for his or her own actions in context, and that God will not show favoritism towards one person because of station in life. Interpreted toward unrighteous children of Israel, I think this also means that although Abraham’s blessing provides special promises in general, individuals can still send themselves to Hell through unrighteous acts and attitudes.

    On a separate point, however, I read some paper on genetics recently (link: here; c.f. here) that breaks genealogy into probabilities. The paper essentially said that it only took something like 30 generations for there to exist a link between every single living person on the planet today to anyone else. Even using the BoM’s conservative generational spans (2 per century! see supposed chronology in 4 Nephi), we would only need to go back 1500 years to find common ancestors for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Thus, everyone is related to Abraham (b. 1812 BCE ; d. 1637 BCE by Jewish dating according to Wikipedia), and therefore inheritors of his blessings. That’s science laying the smack down on covenantal bloodlines!

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    I notice you missed the post on Unconventional BoM Geography, but there is a radical theory stating that BoM lands could be in Burma, so, under that theory, the DNA would be a help, rather than hindrance to BoM geography. Of course, the theory introduces other problems, but seemingly DNA wouldn’t be one of the problems. For those that read the previous post, my comment makes more sense in that context, which is why I stated it that way. (I’m sure you won’t read all 300 comments, but you might want to be acquainted with it.)

  17. #15 – Yup, scientific smackdowns can be glorious, indeed. That’s the main reason I read the Abrahamic covenant as broadly as I do – to be a promise to all of God’s children.

    I also think it’s fascinating to contemplate that anchoring the promise to Abraham pretty much eliminates the fighting among the Abrahamic religions – and opening up the “gathering” to either a grand communal sealing through temple ordinances or a literal “blood transfusion” as all societies become known and intermingled biologically destroys all arrogance based on “believing blood”. It leaves the importance of the covenant and the House of Israel adoptive process in place, but it expands the actual boundaries such that they essentially disappear.

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    Thanks for the links (though the first one requires payment). I have been wanting to do a post on the Lemba Tribe in Africa which can trace ancestry back to Jewish origins. Frankly, I find DNA stuff interesting, but incredibly confusing. It seems there are many contradictory conclusions.

  19. I think the 12 tribes relate more to the Abrahamic Covenant and exaltation, particularly when read in context of what, exactly, the Abrahamic Covenant is. I wrote about this topic and the 10th Article of Faith a few months ago.

  20. I think it might be more straightforward than we think. What I have come to appreciate in reading the Book of Mormon’s early chapters is that the leadership of the church ALWAYS goes back to the seed of Lehi, and through them an important role will be played in converting the seed of Abraham left behind by Lehi in the Mid-East to believe in Christ.

    Part of the OT references the notion that even if a mother forgets her children, God will not forget Israel. When he pulled Lehi out of Jerusalem, it was for the welfare of all people, including those left behind, as well as for Lehi’s seed and the Gentiles that would come along a couple of thousand years later.

    Think about the general options. Had the early Restoration been more Zionic, what would have happened as America developed the West? Might that Zionic impulse have not already lifted up leaders of the church from among the ones our archeological models suggest to be the Lamanite descendents? If that righteousness is still being developed among we “gentiles”, is the passage of that leadership back to the Lamanites still in our future? And, if the gentiles do not develop further in that righteousness, there are warnings that those same Lamanites will be empowered to move like lions among the gentiles and take that leadership.

    Let’s not get so wrapped up in issues of personal salvation in the afterlife that we forget God has been putting in place ways to finish some other business on earth for thousands of years.

  21. One of the things I find interesting is the idea that this gathering might be a more spiritual gathering as Ray, Silverrain, and others suggest. If that is so, why is there a preoccupation with Ephraim and Manasseh in patriarchal blessings. Shouldn’t we find the other tribes better represented as well? Does anyone know of a patriarchal blessing of someone who is from a tribe outside of Ephraim and Manasseh?

    Firetag, I’m not sure I comprehend your questions. Are you saying that if the early leaders of the Restoration had been more zionic, then we would have Native Americans in the Quorum of 12 back then and today?

  22. MH, I know of more than a few members whose lineage was declared to be other than Ephraim, but Ephraim is understood to be the “missionary tribe” – so most adoptees are going to be adopted into that tribe by default. Again, I see it as highly symbolic, not literal.

  23. Ray, Can you share this info in general terms? How many? Which tribes?

    For anyone else, are you aware of any Jewish converts who are a literal descendant of Aaron, or of the Tribe of Levi? Anyone from Dan, Naphtali, Simeon, etc?

  24. MH, I honestly haven’t tried to keep track, but I’d estimate 2-3 dozen that I personally know and have heard talk about it. That means I might know 100+ and just be unaware of it, but I’ve heard probably a couple dozen.

    I know some Jewish converts who are Levi and a couple who are not. I know one or two from most of the other tribes.

  25. One of the missionaries that taught me was from Levi. His companion kept telling him that he should claim the bishopric in our ward per D&C 68. He was just kidding, I think. I had a Jewish home teacher who was Judah, and I’ve known a couple of people who were Dan.

    Manasseh seems to be the default tribe for Japanese members. That’s what they’re usually told, although I don’t think the percentage is quite as overwhelming as Ephraim is for Americans.

  26. MH:

    I am something of a believer that prophets and leaders can be held back from seeing all that God would reveal by the sins of the people, so I wouldn’t put that burden primarily on the leadership. but otherwise, yes. One of the later D&C sections given to us after the split between our denominations says (if I can quote it correctly) “were it not for the transgressions of My people, Zion could have been redeemed even now.”

    The righteous gentiles are grafted onto the house of Israel, not the other way around. (Maybe the surrendering of pride involved in turning over leadership power will be the final test of the church’s obedience. Who knows?)

  27. Firetag,

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding your comment. I understand that righteous gentiles are grafted into the house of Israel, and I think there is plenty of statements from past leaders affirming such a position. However, I do not believe that Joseph believed that these grafted gentiles were supposed to return to the land of Israel. Is that what you’re saying?

    While I don’t expect many Mormons to be familiar with Simcha Jacobovici’s work, I find his theory that the lost 10 tribes are found in African, Chinese, Indian, Russian, and Middle Eastern nations quite interesting. If DNA evidence can corroborate Jacobovici’s work, then it would seem that DNA might be a way to identify these lost 10 tribes, thus fulfilling in a tangible way, the 10th article of faith. Many of these small groups already claim to have Israelite blood, and have petitioned the Israeli government for citizenship. Except for the tribe of Dan (during the Israeli Ethiopian airlift in the 1990’s), there have been no other groups granted citizenship claiming membership from another tribe. Even this group of Danites, was not confirmed by DNA, but rather by rabbinical judgment.

    I don’t see gentiles grafted into the House of Israel as fulfilling the 10th article of faith. Am I misunderstanding something here?

  28. MH:

    No, I’m suggesting that the seed of the Lamanites will inherit (hopefully the easy way) leadership of the Restoration church from the Gentiles upon the Lamanites’ conversion to Christ, and that conversion (not the physical relocation to the Mid-East) will be used by God to play an important role in the subsequent conversion of their brethren in Israel, since the “convincing of the Jew” is stated as one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon in the preface.

    There is always a tendency for people to subconsciously think that they can bring a lot of people from different cultures into the church without the culture of the church itself changing. I fight that in myself. In fact, when Jewish Christians in the first century started converting gentiles, they were in for the shock of their lives, and even the Apostles argued about the issues the newcomers raised.

    To your other point. since Lehi left after the scattering, I suspect the Lamanites have nothing to do necessarily with the physical gathering of the 10 tribes. I have no opinion about where the 10 went, or when and in what numbers they will return to Jerusalem and a Western Hemisphere literal gathering.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t think many of those the Assyrians took got much choice about religious purity in marriage, so by now the seed of the 10 tribes could hardly avoid being scattered all over the planet.

  29. Post

    Firetag, thanks for the clarification. You bring up some interesting points about assimilating other cultures will change the culture of the church.

    I guess what is interesting to me is the fact that in the early days of the church, it is evident that the early church leaders believed the 2nd coming was imminent. As such, the literal gathering of the lost 10 tribes would have been a necessary part of that. The Book of Mormon’s emphasis that Lehi was of the tribe of Joseph was much more important then, than it is today. It is interesting to me that there is a lack of interest in the gathering of the lost tribes, despite the persistent talk of the 2nd coming. Obviously, the 2nd coming is downplayed more today than the 1830’s. As such, the 10th article of faith gets little interest.

  30. My feelings and thoughts on this come as much from my background in physics as from my background in the Restoration. When you’re taught as a physicist to think of even the locations of continents as transient, you tend to think of the rise and fall of civilizations and the regathering of scattered peoples as pretty rapid events. By contrast, when you think of a 3000 year religious tradition as “old”, there is a tendency to think that it will be pretty much business as usual for the next 3000 years.

  31. AS a jew I find it  all amusing  WHY is it they have to be jewish GOD knows where the jews are and we will all return to Israel and then the false prophets will be exposed for the liars that they are……

  32. I realize I am really-really late to the game on commenting. In order to answer this question, you must be in context, understanding dispensations (the current being the dispensation of the fullness of times), the eternal plan of salvation, and reading carefully through the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob. Also Abraham was promised more than posterity, specifically, also a land of inheritance. As we read, though, Abraham’s wife had a terrible time conceiving, he died with no land to speak of, and had bunch of wicked great grandchildren to boot. One could ask what good the promises were to Abraham.

    You must also understand the “last shall be first and first shall be last” pattern and the opposition principle (“opposition in all things) prevalent throughout the scriptures.

    To start, the dispensation of the fullness of times is a complex dispensation, where knowledge gained through every previous dispensation is combined into a single dispensation, designed to prepare for the second coming. Whether the early prophets of the church were focused on the idea of the imminent second coming of the Lord or not, it is still designed and prophesied that this will be the dispensation where the gathering if Israel takes place. Such prophesies are found in Isaiah, Ezekiel and even Moses, with Isaiah referring to the gathering as a greater miracle than even the Exodus.

    On the Abraham point… penniless and almost barren, it suggests that the promises given to Abraham weren’t entirely physical (although physical and spiritual are often connected), and given the time span between the giving of that promise to now, it’s not a promise that is fulfilled overnight or over the span of one or two generations physically. This is where a knowledge of the plan of salvation comes into play. The plan of salvation outlines a series of stages of our existence, with this life being only a small, but vital part. It is basically this: We lived with God as his spirit children in the beginning. We had progressed as far as we could in his presence, lacking experience and (as implied with the whole Garden of Eden interplay) we lacked in knowledge of good and evil. In other words, Heavenly Father wanted us to become like him, inherit all he has, but giving us all without a knowledge of consequences would be unwise (sci-fi reference… remember Q in Star trek? God-like powers with amoral values). So he created the earth. We, in turn are sent here to be tried and tested to see if we will act righteously when on our own. A veil of forgetfulness was placed over our minds so that we could make mistakes, experience good and evil, and not be so accountable as to be kicked out of God’s presence forever (like Lucifer in the beginning). A savior (Jesus Christ) was provided to sacrifice on our behalf so that if we chose to exercise repentance, his sacrifice would overcome our sins, and we’d be free to return to him and inherit all. Once we have passed away, we are then judged and having been found worthy, inherit the Kingdom of God. (Or if we decide not to repent, but to do wickedly or identify with our sins, we receive a lesser inheritance — this is the no respecter of persons doctrine… everyone has an equal chance, regardless of status, to exercise our free will unto salvation or damnation). Therefore, as Alma points out, this life is nothing more than a probationary state… a test.

    Given this perspective, the Abrahamic promise is more about what is inherited after this life than what is physically inherited here on earth. We are reminded of this over and over in scripture. “Store up your treasure in heaven where dust and moth doth not corrupt”… “all things on earth shall pass away.” etc. We get a further hint of this in D&C 132:30.

    The strategic scattering and gathering of Israel is God’s way of maximizing our chances of inheriting his Kindgom, which is the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham. See D&C 132:37. Abraham, though dead, now resurrected, received his inheritance, and therefore the fruits of the promise.

    Then there is the “last shall be first, first shall be last pattern” (Matt 19:30, Mark 10:31). While this pattern applies to a great number of things done by the Lord, in the instance of the Children of Israel, they were the first to receive the gospel, but are prophesied to be the last to actually accept it. They received it, were wicked, and were therefore scattered. However, this being the last dispensation, it’s time to gather them up again (again.. look at the allegory of the olive tree and the fruit thereof).

    This gathering is expected to occur on a grand scale in the last dispensation. The question remains though… is it a physical gathering? Or is it a gathering on the same scale as the original Abrahamic promise, pertaining to inheritance after this life? I would venture to guess that the gathering is wider than the perspective of this world. As Isaiah alludes, the Exodus was a huge event. Everyone talks about it. But it was a physical event happening in course of a temporary world. The gathering of Israel, I believe transcends that event by bringing Abraham’s promise of eternal inheritance back into mortality through the restoration of the priesthood keys and the spreading of the gospel to the four corners of the earth. The missionary force of the church, 50,000-strong, is the direct fulfillment of the gathering of Israel. It’s less about what tribe someone belongs to, and more about ensuring the separation of the wheat and tares in the dispensation of the fullness of times in preparation for the second coming of the Lord, at which point the earth is renewed, and an inheritance is made for the righteous.

    When the earth and mortality has passed away, and we are long gone from this life, it is the gathering that will be the event talked about. It is the gathering that ultimately helped so many pass the test of mortality and gain their eternal inheritance. It is the gathering that tips the scales on the mortal battlefield of good and evil.

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