“The Holy Land: The First Presidency Speaks,” Ensign, May 1972, 2
Central themes of the Restoration have been the gathering of the dispersed seed of Abraham and the redemption of their holy lands.
As the Latter-day Saints, a portion of modern Israel, were being driven from their homes and lands in 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which was presiding over the Church, issued a circular that drew parallels between the plight of ancient and modern Israel. It said, in part:
“The spirit of Prophecy has long since portrayed in the Book of Mormon what might be the conduct of this nation towards the Israel of the last days. … The same evil that premeditated against Mordecai awaited equally all the families of his nation. … Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. Jacob must be expatriated while Esau held dominion. It was wisdom for the child of promise to go far away from him that thirsted for blood. Even the heir of universal kingdoms fled precipitately into a distant country until they that sought to murder were dead.”1
Prior to the Restoration, Moroni, a messenger sent from the presence of God, visited Joseph Smith in 1823 and quoted prophecies from the Old Testament, including this verse from Joel: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” (Joel 2:32.)
Ten years after Moroni’s visit and three years after the organization of the Church, Joseph Smith wrote, by commandment, a letter of warning to all people. The letter contains this statement:
“The time has at last arrived when the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has set His hand again the second time to recover the remnants of his people, which have been left from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea, and with them to bring in the fulness of the Gentiles, and establish that covenant with them, which was promised when their sins should be taken away. See Isaiah xi, Romans xi:25, 26 and 27, and also Jeremiah xxxi:31, 32 and 33. [Isa. 11; Rom. 11:25–27; Jer. 31:31–33] This covenant has never been established with the house of Israel, nor with the house of Judah, for it requires two parties to make a covenant, and those two parties must be agreed, or no covenant can be made.
“But the tribe of Judah will return to old Jerusalem. … Judah shall obtain deliverance at Jerusalem. See Joel ii:32; Isaiah xxvi: 20 and 21; Jeremiah xxxi:12; Psalm i:5; Ezekiel xxxiv:11, 12 and 13. [Joel 2:32; Isa. 26:20–21; Jer. 31:12; Ps. 1:5; Ezek. 34:11–13] These are testimonies that the Good Shepherd will put forth His own sheep, and lead them out from all nations where they have been scattered in a cloudy and dark day, to Zion, and to Jerusalem. …”2
The keys to gather “Israel from the four parts of the earth” were bestowed upon Joseph Smith by Moses, ancient prophet and lawgiver of Israel, during his appearance in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836.
On April 6, 1840, the First Presidency issued a letter of credentials for Orson Hyde as a missionary to Palestine. He was instructed to visit the cities of London, Amsterdam, Constantinople, and Jerusalem and to “converse with the priests, rulers and elders of the Jews.” Orson Hyde’s mission was accomplished, and the Holy Land was dedicated.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said in the Church’s general conference on April 6, 1843: “Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple, and the waters of the Dead Sea be healed. It will take some time to rebuild the walls of the city and the temple, &c.; and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make His appearance. There will be wars and rumors of wars. …”3
Two months later, on June 11, 1843, a large assembly of Saints met at the temple stand in Nauvoo and the Prophet, taking his text from Matthew 23:37 [Matt. 23:37], stated that he had been asked: “What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world?”
He answered: “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; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”4
Brigham Young and the Council of the Twelve, who held the keys of presidency following the death of Joseph Smith, sent Wilford Woodruff to England with a letter of greeting to the elders and Saints in Great Britain. The letter contained these instructions: “The God of Israel will communicate to His disciples all things necessary for the building up of His Kingdom on the earth until Israel is gathered, yea even all the blood of Abraham scattered over all the earth, Zion established, Jerusalem rebuilt, and the whole earth be filled with the glory and knowledge of God.”5
After the Mormon exodus to the West, the First Presidency in 1849 issued these instructions to the Saints: “… gather the outcasts of Judah and the remnants of Ephraim from the four winds to the place of their inheritance; that Zion may be built up, Jerusalem re-established, and the glory of the latter day fill the earth.”6
In their fifth general epistle to the Church, issued in April 1851, the First Presidency wrote: “The gathering of Israel has already commenced; Judea is receiving its ancient inhabitants, and the Holy City is re-building; which is one prominent sign of the near approach of the Messiah.”7
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established a mission in Turkey in 1884. On September 22, 1889, the first Arab converts in the mission were baptized at Aintab. In 1897 President Wilford Woodruff and his counselors wrote the following to their “Beloved Brethren and Sisters” in Turkey:
“… do not discuss the time of the coming of Christ in an unprofitable manner. There is a time appointed, and only God knows it. He has not revealed it. But the appointed time will surely come long before most people are prepared. This we know, it is not far distant, for the signs of his coming are now very plain. But there is yet much to do to prepare for that great event. Many of the honest have not yet heard of His great latter-day work. Zion must be fully established. Jerusalem must be rebuilt by the Jews, the ten tribes must return from the north, the American Indians, who are of the house of Israel must be converted and become workers in His cause. And many more of the different branches of the House of Israel must return to the promised lands and be prepared to meet Him and to receive Him. For he will be their King when He comes.”8
A Jewish national home in Palestine, proposed in the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, was difficult to establish. When Arabs and Jews were still fighting for land control in 1921, President Heber J. Grant said in the April general conference that year:
“By the authority of the Holy Priesthood of God, that has again been restored to the earth, and by the ministration, under the direction of the Prophet of God, Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ have been to the Holy Land and have dedicated that country for the return of the Jews; and we believe that in the due time of the Lord they shall be in the favor of God again. And let no Latter-day Saint be guilty of taking any part in any crusade against these people.”9
On March 2, 1959, the First Presidency issued a letter to stake presidents and stake mission presidents commending the efforts of Elder LeGrand Richards of the Council of the Twelve, who, under their direction, made an earnest effort to bring Jewish people to an investigation of the restored gospel. The letter also inaugurated a stake missionary program among Jewish people in large cities with sizable numbers of Jews. Some instructions in this letter are perhaps a timely conclusion:
“We deem it wise to counsel stake missionaries, as well as other groups within the stake, not to foster or attempt to promote movements relating to the much mooted question: ‘Pro or Anti-Semitic.’ We think that generally speaking the Mormon people have understood the Jews, and have probably been more friendly to them than any other people, and with our concept of universal brotherhood it is untenable that we as a people should entertain prejudice and ill will against any of our Father’s children. The projection of any issue of this character would in all probability be attended with misunderstandings and debate, and without substantial profit to anyone. We have a message for the Jews. We shall be most happy to give it to them if they will listen.
“In connection with the subject of this letter we take occasion to call the attention of our missionaries to the unwisdom of any attempt to set dates and times for the fulfillment of prophecy. … We accept the revelations, we believe in the prophecies. The time of fulfillment is in the unfathomable wisdom of the Lord. It is well to teach all people to be prepared for the fulfillment of prophecy, and leave all else to Him.”10
Thus we see that for nearly one hundred and fifty years the First Presidency has taught the doctrines of the gathering of the dispersed seed of Abraham and their restoration to their holy lands.