Jacob was a great prophet who lived hundreds of years before the time of Christ. Jacob was so faithful in keeping the commandments of God that Heavenly Father gave him the special name of Israel. The name Israel means “one who prevails with God” or “let God prevail” (Bible Dictionary, “Israel,” 708). Jacob was the father of twelve sons, and these sons along with their families became known as the twelve tribes of Israel, or Israelites (see Genesis 49:28).
Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob, was so righteous that God made an everlasting covenant with him, and this covenant was renewed with Isaac and with Joseph and his children. God promised the Israelites that they would be His covenant people for as long as they would keep His commandments (see Deuteronomy 28:9-10). God also told them that they would be a blessing to all the nations of the world by taking the gospel and the priesthood to them (see Abraham 2:9-11). Through taking the blessings of the gospel and the priesthood to the world, the Israelites would keep their covenants with Heavenly Father, and He would keep His covenant with them.
Prophets counseled the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant and warned time after time what would happen if they were wicked. Moses told them, “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other” (Deuteronomy 28:64). For some reason, the Israelites could not keep the commandments of God. They fought among themselves and eventually split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom was called the kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom was called the kingdom of Judah.
The Northern Kingdom consisted of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Northern Kingdom was conquered by enemies and taken into captivity, but some of them later escaped into the lands of the north to become lost to the rest of the world.
The Southern Kingdom survived for another 100 years before they were also conquered. Many members of the remaining two tribes were taken into captivity when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C. Some members of these two tribes were later able to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Lehi and his family, who were of the house of Israel, left Jerusalem just before it was destroyed and then settled on the American continents.
Jerusalem was destroyed once again after the time of Jesus Christ, and the Jews were scattered over much of the world. Jews are found in all nations today, but some of them do not even know that they are descendants of the house of Israel.
The Lord promised to gather His covenant people some day: “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them” (Jeremiah 23:3).
God explained that the gathering of the house of Israel would take place through missionary work. When people are taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, receive the ordinances of salvation, and keep the associated covenants, they become “children of the covenant” (3 Nephi 20:26). God gathers His children for a number of important reasons. One reason for the gathering is so they can learn the teachings of the gospel and be prepared to meet Jesus Christ when He returns to earth. Another reason why God gathers His children is so they can build temples where they can perform the sacred temple ordinances for ancestors who died without that opportunity. God also gathers His children in order that they can strengthen each other, find protection from the wicked influences of the world, and become unified in the gospel. Another reason why God gathers His children is so they can learn to share the gospel with other people.
Moses, under direction from God, bestowed the power and authority to direct the gathering of the house of Israel upon Joseph Smith when he appeared in the Kirtland Temple in 1836 (see Doctrine and Covenants 110:11). Each prophet in succession has held the keys for the gathering of the house of Israel. This gathering is an important part of the work performed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God is currently gathering His covenant people as they accept the restored gospel and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
The Israelites will be gathered spiritually before they are gathered physically. They are gathered spiritually when they join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and make and keep sacred covenants. This spiritual gathering started during the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith and continues all over the world today. Converts to the Church are Israelites by either blood or adoption, and they belong to the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Abraham 2:9-11; Galatians 3:26-29).
President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “There are many nations represented in the … Church. … They have come because the Spirit of the Lord rested upon them; … receiving the spirit of gathering, they left everything for the sake of the gospel” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954-56], 3:256; italics in original).
The physical gathering takes place when the covenant people are “gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (2 Nephi 9:2). The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh will receive the Americas as their inheritance and be gathered there. The tribe of Judah will return to the city of Jerusalem and the area surrounding it. The ten lost tribes will receive their promised blessings from the tribe of Ephraim (see Doctrine and Covenants 133:26-34).
In the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, converts were instructed to gather to where the Church was located – first in Ohio, then Missouri, and then the Salt Lake Valley. Prophets today tell Church members to build up the kingdom of God in their own lands. Elder Russell M. Nelson stated: “The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be `brought to the knowledge of the Lord’ [3 Nephi 20:13] without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation…. The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea; and so forth. Zion is `the pure in heart.’ [Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.] Zion is wherever righteous Saints are” (Ensign, Nov. 2006, 81).
The physical gathering of the house of Israel will continue until the Second Coming of the Savior and on into the Millennium (see Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:37). At that time the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
“But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14-15).
I am blessed to be a part of the gathering of the house of Israel. I look forward with excitement to see how the Lord orchestrates the gathering of His covenant people.