BYU religion professor Brad Wilcox spoke in an Education Week session on Thursday, August 22, about the role members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints play in the gathering of Israel.
Wilcox likened the gathering of Israel to a game of hide-and-seek, but rather than knowing that they need to be found, members of the tribes of Israel are more like children who do not know they are lost and do not know they are in danger.
“There are many people who are lost out there,” Wilcox said. “Some of them may not want to be found, some of them want to be found, but they all need to be found.”
How did Israel become lost?
Wilcox discussed how Israel became lost in the first place. He explained how, upon arriving in Israel, Joshua divided up the land for each of the tribes — the ten tribes in the north became Sumeria, while the two tribes in the south became Judah.
“We have to remember that the people in those days would not have thought of themselves so much as tribes, but as part of a kingdom,” Wilcox noted.
Once members of the Northern Kingdom were conquered by the Assyrians and scattered across Assyrian lands, they intermarried with other conquered peoples and became known as Samaritans, eventually forgetting their heritage.
These Samaritans did not associate themselves with the Jews, and eventually, the tribes of Israel were scattered across the face of the Earth, as was prophesied in Old Testament times.
“(Israelites) are lost not because they don’t know where they are,” Wilcox said, “They’re lost because they don’t know who they are.”
While the people of the lost tribes of Israel may not know who they are, Wilcox said, the Jewish people all are aware of their heritage — whether they are religious or not — and all descend from the small group of Jewish people who were able to return to Jerusalem and build the temple.
Those who know they are of the tribes of Israel need to be gathered just the same as those who don’t know. For this gathering, God reaches out through revelation to those who know they are of Israel, Wilcox said.
Because of this, he said, members of the Church are the ones in the position to find the lost people of Israel.
“The Jews know (they are of Israel) by genealogy, but they don’t have a covenant with Christ. Others don’t know they’re of the blood of Israel, but they don’t have a covenant with Christ. (Members of the Church) know (they are) of the blood of Israel because of patriarchal blessings, because of the words of prophets, and (they) do have a covenant with Christ,” Wilcox said.
Why did God scatter Israel in the first place?
Wilcox explained that God would bless the Gentile nations through the scattering of Israel because Israelites could bless the lives of those with whom they are now living.
According to Erastus Snow, “The scattered descendants of Israel were the ones who were on the frontier movements that brought freedom, including religious freedom, throughout the world.”
Wilcox explained that while many people understand there had to be a restoration because of apostasy, they do not understand why it had to be led by an American man. He said that in 1820, America was the only country in the world that had religious freedom, so there was no other place the Restoration could take place.
Joseph Smith felt a sense of urgency toward the work of gathering Israel, Wilcox explained, and even though the majority of the Church was unhappy with him at that time, he began this work by sending Heber C. Kimball on his mission to England. When the Church was later dwindling in the United States, 30,000 members that had been gathered from England migrated to America and saved the Church.
Joseph Smith later sent Orson Hyde on a mission to Jerusalem to dedicate the land for the gathering of the Jews. On October 24, 1841, Hyde knelt on the western slope of the Mount of Olives and dedicated the land for the gathering of the Jews in preparation for the Second Coming.
Wilcox remarked that many people believe the return of the Jews to Israel in the 1940s and the creation of the country of Israel by the United Nations fulfilled Hyde’s dedicatory prayer. He said, however, that this is incorrect.
“The gathering is not just a gathering of Jews to Jerusalem, it is a gathering of Jews into the Church — it is a gathering of Jews to Christ. And so the gathering continues for Jews and for those of other tribes all over the world,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox continued his remarks by discussing patriarchal blessings and their purpose.
According to President Dallin H. Oaks, Wilcox said, when a patriarch puts his hands on your head, it is not a DNA test. He is not giving you your literal bloodline — he is giving you the tribe through which you will receive your blessings and the tribe which you will bless.
Wilcox also remarked that the job of missionaries is not so much to baptize people but to father and strengthen the people of Israel. The job of baptism, he said, is ultimately the job of Christ.
Wilcox closed his remarks by saying it is one thing to be loved, but it is another thing to be trusted. God has sent members of the Church to Earth with a different role, he said, and has trusted them to gather the lost tribes of Israel.
“You have a birthright. You were sent through this chosen lineage; you were given an extra portion spiritually (and) temporally,” Wilcox said, “And now it’s time. It’s time to rise up, stand with God and say, ‘We will do this work, we will stand with you, we will be true.'”