1. The Gathering of Israel: Nothing of greater consequence!

First of three in Gregorio Billikopf's series understanding "the gathering"

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1. The Gathering of Israel: Nothing of greater consequence!

One of the primary foci of the Holy Scriptures, Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, as the Old Testament is called by the Jews, is the gathering. And no book equals that of Isaiah on this topic. In this three-part series, we will survey the Old Testament, come to understand some of the prophecies regarding the gathering and most especially, the role that the Book of Mormon plays today. Although Latter-day Saints are familiar with Ezekiel’s prophecy of the stick of Judah and the stick of Ephraim, after reading this series you will see how a large portion of the Hebrew Bible testifies of matters that come to a striking and powerful climax in Ezekiel.

“What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? … The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation … It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings” —Joseph Smith the Prophet, HC 5:423–24

President Nelson at the Youth Devotional

On 3 June 2018 President Nelson addressed the youth of the world in a moving devotional. He told those who were present:

“There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing [than the gathering of Israel today] … This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to earth.”

President Nelson invited the youth to be one of the swift messengers mentioned in Isaiah 18, a chapter dedicated to the scattering and gathering of Israel. He also testified that without the Book of Mormon, there would be no gathering of Israel. The Prophet was concerned that the youth did not understand what the gathering was all about. He summarized it as inviting all to come unto Christ on both sides of the veil.

I am aware that some individuals are weary of the Old Testament, or simply see it as containing some nice stories. After being prompted by the Spirit to study Isaiah, I have come to love the Hebrew Scriptures. I have found many a hidden treasure, as well as a witness for the restoration of the Church and the coming forth of that Book of books, the Book of Mormon. Your testimony of the Savior, of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will grow into a bright beam. The topic of the gathering of Israel has been a passion of mine for decades and I hope others will also feel the thrill.

Exciting journey

The subject of the gathering is a thrilling and glorious one and has occupied my mind for much of the last few decades, especially as I embarked on writing Isaiah Testifies of Christ.

In order to understand the promises made to the twelve tribes of Israel, we will set off on an exciting journey with some terrain that must first be traversed in order to come to a better understanding of these glorious prophecies. We will review some of the most pertinent aspects of the history of Israel, and come to an understanding of multiple prophecies as well as the prophetic voice. As we begin, some of the topics will not immediately seem connected. I will attempt to tie the loose ends before we are done.

Truth is one eternal round (D&C 35:1) and so we shall begin with the quote given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, above, about the importance of temples, and end with this very concept as it relates to the Book of Mormon as an instrument to help Israel accomplish the following:

  1. Gather back unto Christ,
  2. Be restored to the Abrahamic covenant, and
  3. Be brought to the temples of our God. The Holy Scriptures truly testify of Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Bible also testifies of the role the Book of Mormon would play in the gathering of Israel from spiritual Babylon unto Zion.

Ellipses

A few years before I retired from the University of California, my supervisor and I were both putting our lunches in the office refrigerator. Noting there was little space she laughingly commented: “It must be the end of the month.” It took me a moment to realize what she was saying before I could join in the laughter.

An ellipsis is something that is understood even though it is not said. They are present in all of our conversations and in everything we read or hear. Much of humor relies on people understanding the gap between what is expressed and what is implied. An ellipsis consists of an omission of one or more words. It is sometimes reflected in writing by three points ( … ). In Spanish, they are called puntos suspensivos.

Martha Kolln suggested, “When well used, ellipsis can create a bond of sorts between the writer and the reader. The writer is saying, in effect, I needn’t spell everything out for you; I know you’ll understand” (Rhetorical Grammar, 5th ed. Pearson, 2007).

As we fall in love with the scriptures, we begin to see more and more of these elliptical points that are not written, but whose meanings we must prayerfully discern ourselves. Not just words, but often much more.

The elliptical expressions included in my supervisor’s humor required an understanding that: (1) people often go out to lunch; (2) individuals are paid at the beginning of the month; (3) people live from paycheck to paycheck; (4) individuals have less disposable money towards the end of the month because few budget carefully; (5) going out to lunch is more expensive than bringing something from home; and therefore: (6) people have brought in their lunches because it is the end of the month. This is a cultural ellipsis.

Someone in a biblical agrarian society might not get this at all. And conversely, there are many cultural ellipses in Scripture that we do not easily understand—especially if we have been raised far from an agrarian society.

New wine in new bottles

In Matthew 9:17 we read: “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”

To understand this verse we must comprehend that (1) grape juice turns into wine throughOld wineskin a primary and a secondary fermentation process; (2) new wine has not totally finished fermenting (i.e., the secondary fermentation has not yet taken place); (3) and that old bottles (rather, animal skins or leather used as containers) have previously been expanded to their limit.

If new wine is put in these old wineskins that cannot stretch any further, they burst, spilling out all of their contents. New skins, on the other hand, can stretch along with the secondary fermentation process and are well suited to new wine.

It has been said that Joseph Smith, the young boy prophet of the restoration, was like a new bottle into which the Lord’s doctrine could be poured.

To understand ellipses, then, we must understand the culture, the theology, and the language. When the Bible was translated from the ancient languages into our modern texts, such as the King James Version, they did much to fill in the gaps for us. In other words, the translators gladly provided much of the missing text we would need to understand. Even so, there are plenty of areas that require further understanding.

Italics in the Bible

We can open our KJV of the Bible to almost any page and find that some of the text is in italics. (Some Biblical translations do not show these italics in the text but rather give the illusion that the whole text is part of the original. Other versions provide additional expansions, such as the Amplified Version.)

Without the ellipsis being filled in for us, Isaiah 2:12 would read: “For the day of the Lord of hosts upon every proud and lofty, and upon every lifted up; and he shall be brought low.” With the ellipsis filled in, we have: “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low.”

Genesis 30:30 would read: “For little which thou hadst before I, and it is increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?” With the ellipses filled in: “For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?”

There are many ellipses in the Bible and the book Figures of Speech used in the Bible, by Ethelbert W. Bullinger, D.D. is quite interesting and instructive.[1] The problem, of course, is that ellipses are subject to interpretation. Not all of the ellipses, as they are filled in our KJV, are correct. The same can be said of other Biblical translations. Furthermore, even though I have recommended Bullinger, I have filled the margins of the book with differences of opinion.

The Prophet Joseph Smith approved many of the elliptical expressions we find in our KJV, but not all. Ellipses may be completely misunderstood and become false ellipsis. There really is a danger that translators and interpreters of Scripture will misunderstand ellipses. Even though the Inspired Version is not the official Bible for English speakers, gladly we can lean heavily on the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) as we study the Word. In some instances, we may even think of the JST as elliptical expressions used by the Prophet to help us understand the text.

Theological ellipses

Besides missing words or expressions there are also theological ellipses. In these cases, instead of a few words that are missing, only a few are provided. These expressions are codes for expanded meaning. In prophecy, one often sees the development of ideas, line upon line, and precept upon precept. We will be particularly interested in these theological ellipses that are loaded with meaning, as they appear throughout the Holy Scriptures, especially as touching the Abrahamic covenant and the ingathering of Israel.

Abrahamic Covenant

The Lord offered Abraham many wonderful blessings. These would include a large posterity as well as an inheritance in the Holy Land. Among the many promises made to Abraham, particularly mark the following: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7, emphasis added).

I am your God, ye are my people

We will be particularly interested in the chapters I have nicknamed Rain in Due Season. Oftentimes, when one verse of these chapters is quoted or alluded to, these stand for all of the blessings and cursing promised therein. And most importantly, they are a reminder of some very special promises associated with the gathering in the latter days. Throughout Isaiah, these blessings and cursings are alluded to.

The Rain in Due Season promises associated with the scattering and gathering of Israel are found in the Pentateuch, in their most extensive detail, in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 4, 28–30, and 32. I urge you to read and re-read these chapters and become intimately acquainted with them: an understanding of these will greatly facilitate an understanding of a large portion of the Holy Scriptures and of the book of Isaiah. I use the expression rain in due season to refer to these chapters.

Rain in Due SeasonThe Lord promises, if we heed the invitation to remove ourselves from every type of idolatry and to make the Sabbath a delight[3]: “Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit” (Leviticus 26:4, emphasis added). Rain is often associated with blessings in the Holy Scriptures.

In today’s agriculture, we often have great reservoirs of water that are accumulated from the winter rains and melted snows in order to water orchards and other agricultural lands during the growing season. In my mother’s farm in San Javier, Chile, we were very blessed to have small water canals to water our vineyards. My uncle, on the other hand, owned property in the nearby town of Villa Alegre, and his watering system was called “regadío a rulo,” or non-irrigated land. The only water that falls in this land is the rain the Lord provides.

During Biblical times, much of Israel’s rain was provided in this way. Depending on the crops, there are specific times when rain is needed. Vineyards and orchards also need rain at specific intervals; grains and annuals need rain to soften the soil for tillage and then at intervals once the plants are growing.

When the Lord says that He would provide rain in due season, then, He is blessing us with rain at the precise moment when the plants have a need for it.

In the ancient agronomical societies, then, rain in due season meant the difference between plentiful crops and famine. Rain and blessings are closely associated with each other.

So it is that the Lord promises: “prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10b).

It requires tremendous faith to plant or grow crops under such a method, especially under Mediterranean climates—such as portions of Chile, California and the Holy Land.

Besides the rain given to those involved in agriculture, rain in due season also implies blessings in general. The Lord’s timing in providing these blessings is always perfect. These miracles, of course, are not only material but spiritual. Above all things, rain in due season represents revelation. This is a priceless gift, to have the Lord speak to us through our Prophets, Seers and Revelators and also, for personal matters, through direct personal revelation and divine inspiration.

The Lord promised the children of Jacob rain in due season if they would walk in His paths and turn their hearts toward the Holy One of Israel.

“Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out” (Deuteronomy 28:6). The complete list of blessings is extensive and beautiful.

The assurances, in essence, are a review of the promises made to Abraham: “For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you” (Leviticus 26:9).

None of the assertions are more profound and magnificent than the following: “I [the Lord] will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12b, emphasis added). These words bring tears of joy. Can you sense the greatness of these promises?

These Rain in Due Season verses are pregnant with meaning, and are a theological ellipsis for the Abrahamic Covenant, as we saw in Genesis 17:7: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (emphasis added).

Disobedience brings curses

If the children of Jacob would be disobedient, on the other hand, unspeakable curses would befall her. As you read about these curses carefully, you will see that these are multiplied to bless Israel, and help her return unto the Lord.

In Leviticus 26 the Lord announces a set of blessings, and then tells us that if these are not sufficient to soften our hearts, then “I will punish you seven [שֶׁבַע] times more for your sins” (Leviticus 26:18b). The next set of consequences is then given and once again the warning of a seven-fold punishment. This happens multiple times throughout this chapter. When we consider that the word seven stands for perfection, then we know that the Lord’s punishment will be perfect, or in other words, just right for our needs. Just right to bless us.

For the purposes of these articles, we shall focus on two of the cursings. First, “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 28:64a, emphasis added).

Second, there would be a cessation of revelation and the heavens would be shut down: “And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass” (Deuteronomy 28:23a). Elsewhere we read a similar sentiment: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).

Drought of rain is a physical manifestation. Drought of revelation is a spiritual one. They both indicate that things are not well between us and the Lord—especially the latter.

After the blessings and the cursings

In his mercy and foreknowledge, the Lord made provisions for the repentance of the children of Jacob. In one of the most moving verses in Scripture we read: “And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee” (Deuteronomy 30:1), or in other words, when we are brought to a remembrance of these promises after we have been scattered throughout the nations. While we have been scattered by the hand of the nations, we should note that the Lord permitted this scattering.

The Lord is speaking to Israel, regarding what would happen after the great majority of the blessings and cursings would take place: in other words, to the time when the gospel would be restored again upon the earth.

“And shalt return (וְשַׁבְתָּ) unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 30:2).

At every moment we continually make the decision to שׁוּב (shuv), that is, to turn or return towards the Lord, or to give Him our back. In the Holy Scriptures, this is the word that is used to invite people to return unto Christ or repent. שׁוּב is a frequently utilized word to speak about repentance as well as apostasy, turning toward the Lord—or away.

Continuing with Deuteronomy 30:2, note that we first come in remembrance of these covenants and then are moved with a great desire to obey and to enter into the waters of baptism to show our determination to obey. Furthermore, we will have a great desire to share these things with others, especially with our families and children. We will prepare our children for baptism at the age of accountability, whenever possible.

“That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3). To “turn thy captivity” means to put an end to it. The captivity here mentioned is not just a physical one, but also a spiritual one. We will leave mystical Babylon and come unto Zion.

The Lord will be filled with His tender mercies [חֶסֶד] and have compassion toward us. It would not matter where we would have been scattered to, the Lord would have compassion upon us: He will find us even when we did not know we wanted to be found.

“If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee” (Deuteronomy 30:4). None would be forgotten, none would be rejected from coming, and none would be uninvited. No matter where or how far away we would be scattered, it would not be so far that the Lord could not find us—even to the outermost parts of heaven. Either on this side of the veil or the other.

“And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it” (Deuteronomy 30:5a). The Lord would bring Judah back to the Holy Land. The other tribes would have their special lands elsewhere. For instance, Joseph would inherit the American Continent, North and South.

Finally, there is an implication of spiritual Zion—regardless of what nation we find ourselves in, we can leave Babylon and become a Zion people.

“And he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers” (Deuteronomy 30:5b). Those gathered from Israel in the last days will receive blessings even greater than those in former times.

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Our hearts will be circumcised as a token of this new covenant—that is, our hearts of stone will be replaced with a heart of flesh. “That thou mayest live” is an allusion to receiving exaltation and eternal lives.

In the next article, we will explain how you are of Israel and give some historical background on Israel’s civil war.


Notes

This article was adapted from “Rain in Due Season” in Isaiah Testifies of Christ.

[1] https://ia800204.us.archive.org/1/items/cu31924029277047 /cu31924029277047.pdf (Internet Archive free download).

[2] President Ezra Taft Benson, Beware of Pride, April 1989 General Conference.

[3] President Russel M. Nelson, The Sabbath is a Delight, April 2015 General Conference.

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