Chapter 21: The Foreordination of Covenant Israel and Their Responsibilities

“Chapter 21: The Foreordination of Covenant Israel and Their Responsibilities,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000), 56–58

“21: Covenant Israel,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 56–58

Chapter 21

The Foreordination of Covenant Israel and Their Responsibilities


Because of their faith and obedience in the premortal life, thousands upon thousands of the sons and daughters of God were foreordained to be members of the house of Israel in mortality. This foreordination carries with it nobility as well as great responsibility. As members of the house of Israel, we are princes and princesses, members of a royal covenant family commissioned to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) to take the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ “to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (D&C 77:8).

Doctrinal Outline

  1. The people of Israel were a distinct and noble people in the premortal existence.

    1. Because of their faithfulness in the premortal existence, the people of Israel were foreordained to become a holy nation (see Deuteronomy 32:7–9; Romans 8:28–30).

    2. Foreordination determined, to a large extent, an individual’s placement among tribes and nations (see Acts 17:24–26; Deuteronomy 32:7–9).

    3. Many faithful spirits were foreordained to important missions while in the premortal existence (see Abraham 3:22–23; Jeremiah 1:5; D&C 138:53–56).

  2. God reestablished His covenant with Israel in mortality.

    1. God’s covenant with Israel was made with Abraham, so it is often called the Abrahamic covenant (see Abraham 2:6–11; Genesis 17:1–22).

    2. The covenant blessings to Abraham included the blessings of the gospel and the promises of eternal life (see Abraham 2:6–11; Genesis 17:1–22; D&C 132:28–31).

    3. The Abrahamic covenant was renewed with Isaac and Jacob and their posterity (see Genesis 26:1–5; 35:9–12; Exodus 19:1–8).

  3. Covenant Israel today means anyone who covenants to accept and live the gospel.

    1. All people are invited to come unto Christ (see 2 Nephi 26:33; D&C 93:1).

    2. After His Resurrection Jesus charged the Apostles to proclaim the gospel to all people (see Mark 16:15).

    3. The blessings of Abraham are for everyone who embraces the gospel (see Romans 4:12–13; Galatians 3:13–14, 16, 28–29; Ephesians 2:11–21).

  4. As God’s covenant people, Israel has been given a special charge and commission.

    1. Chosen Israel should serve the Lord (see Isaiah 41:8–9; Leviticus 25:55; 1 Nephi 21:3).

    2. Covenant Israel has a responsibility to take the gospel to all the world and be a witness of God’s work and glory (see D&C 63:37; 29:7; 88:81; Isaiah 43:9–10; D&C 1:4–5).

    3. God’s covenant people should marry in the covenant (see Deuteronomy 7:3; Nehemiah 10:28–30).

    4. The covenant people are to keep all of God’s commandments (see Deuteronomy 29:10–18; Mosiah 2:22; John 14:15).

Supporting Statements

  1. The people of Israel were a distinct and noble people in the premortal existence.

    • “Israel is an eternal people. Members of that chosen race first gained their inheritance with the faithful in the pre-mortal life. Israel was a distinct people in pre-existence. Many of the valiant and noble spirits in that first estate were chosen, elected, and foreordained to be born into the family of Jacob, so as to be natural heirs of all of the blessings of the gospel” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:284).

    • “Those born to the lineage of Jacob, who was later to be called Israel, and his posterity, who were known as the children of Israel, were born into the most illustrious lineage of any of those who came upon the earth as mortal beings.

      “All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality. Isn’t it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth [life] was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here?” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 7–8; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 5).

    • “Abraham’s mortal seed, because of long ages of preparation and devotion, while they yet dwelt as spirits in the presence of their Eternal Father earned the ‘right’ to the gospel and the priesthood and an eventual inheritance of eternal life. (Abr. 2:10–12.) That is, they were foreordained to be the children of the father of the faithful and to work the works of righteousness as did faithful Abraham. Though the gospel is for all men, in due course—‘For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated’ (D&C 1:2)—yet some are entitled to receive it before it is presented to others. The Lord sends forth his word on a priority basis. It goes to all men eventually, but some are entitled to hear the voice before others” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 507).

    • “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365).

  2. God reestablished His covenant with Israel in mortality.

    • “Abraham first received the gospel by baptism (which is the covenant of salvation); then he had conferred upon him the higher priesthood, and he entered into celestial marriage (which is the covenant of exaltation), gaining assurance thereby that he would have eternal increase; finally he received a promise that all of these blessings would be offered to all of his mortal posterity. (Abra. 2:6–11; D. & C. 132:29–50.) Included in the divine promises to Abraham was the assurance that Christ would come through his lineage, and the assurance that Abraham’s posterity would receive certain choice, promised lands as an eternal inheritance. (Abra. 2; Gen. 17; 22:15–18; Gal. 3.)

      “All of these promises lumped together are called the Abrahamic covenant” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 13).

    • “When the Lord called Abraham out of Ur, the land of his fathers, he made certain covenants with him because of his faithfulness. One promise was that through him and his seed after him all nations of the earth should be blessed. This blessing is accomplished in several ways.

      “1. Through Jesus Christ who came through the lineage of Abraham;

      “2. Through the priesthood which was conferred upon Abraham and his descendants;

      “3. Through the scattering of Israel among all nations by which the blood of Israel was sprinkled among the nations, and thus the nations partake of the leaven of righteousness, on condition of their repentance, and are entitled to the promises made to the children of Abraham; and

      “4. In the fact that the Lord covenanted with Abraham that after his time all who embraced the gospel should be called by his name, or, should be numbered among his seed, and should receive the Holy Ghost” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246).

    • “The essence of the covenant thus made with Abraham was the ancient, everlasting one, that those who are obedient to God’s law shall inherit the blessings of the Lord. Because Jesus the Christ replaced the lesser law of Israel by the higher one, we now speak, for the sake of distinction, of the ‘new and everlasting covenant.’ The word ‘new’ seems to have a sense of ‘restored,’ as in the words of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, ‘… this is a new and everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning’ [D&C 22:1].

      “This covenant with Abraham was also a call to leadership. Therefore, it has been interpreted to mean that Abraham and his descendants were chosen to conserve in purity and to advance on earth the eternal plan for human salvation. Consequently, the seed of Abraham are often spoken of as the chosen or covenant people” (John A. Widtsoe, “Why Are We Called a Covenant People?” Improvement Era, June 1945, 349; see also “A Covenant People,” New Era, Feb. 1976, 45).

    • “Nor is this covenant confined to mortal life. It extends beyond the grave and into the celestial kingdom. The children of Abraham, if they will keep the covenant as they receive it in the house of the Lord, shall, as Abraham their father, continue on through all eternity to increase, and there shall be no end to their posterity. In this way the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are extended to them, and they become partakers to the fullest extent. For there is to be a continuation of the ‘seeds forever’ among those who receive exaltation in the kingdom of God. This is the promise, and there shall come through Abraham kings and priests and rulers, not only on this earth but in the heavens, and so shall it be worlds without end” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 96).

  3. Covenant Israel today means anyone who covenants to accept and live the gospel.

    • “This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, though it may not have half as much visible effect upon the body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost. In such a case, there may be more of a powerful effect upon the body, and visible to the eye, than upon an Israelite, while the Israelite at first might be far before the Gentile in pure intelligence” (Smith, Teachings, 149–50).

    • “Is it necessary that we be of the house of Israel in order to accept the gospel and all the blessings pertaining to it? If so, how do we become of the house of Israel, by adoption or by direct lineage?

      “Every person who embraces the gospel becomes of the house of Israel. In other words, they become members of the chosen lineage, or Abraham’s children through Isaac and Jacob unto whom the promises were made. The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:245–46).

    • “The oft-asked question, ‘Who are the children of Abraham?’ is well answered in light of the revealed gospel.

      “All who accept God’s plan for his children on earth and who live it are the children of Abraham. Those who reject the gospel, whether children in the flesh, or others, forfeit the promises made to Abraham and are not children of Abraham” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 400).

    Abraham praying before his tent
  4. As God’s covenant people, Israel has been given a special charge and commission.

    • “This understanding of the promise to Abraham places a heavy responsibility upon all who accept the gospel. As children of Abraham, they are under obligation to do the works of Abraham. The waters of baptism carry with them the promise on the part of the candidate that he will conform his life to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which of course was the gospel given, accepted, and practised by Father Abraham” (Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 400).

    • “The reasons for the choosing of a special nation to bear the Priesthood and be favored with the oracles of truth are many. It is both consistent and reasonable for the Lord to call such people and bestow upon them special favors, when all the rest of mankind rejected the word. Through this covenant people the Lord reserved the right to send into the world a chosen lineage of faithful spirits who were entitled to special favors based on pre-mortal obedience. Moreover, the choosing of a special race, and the conferring upon it of peculiar covenants and obligations, which other nations would not keep, had the effect of segregating this race from other races. If no special covenant or peculiar practice had been given to Israel, with the strict commandment not to mix with other peoples, Israel would have disappeared as a nation in the course of a very few years. Even as it was it took years of training and constant guidance on the part of divinely appointed prophets to impress upon the people the sacredness of their special call. Moreover, they had to suffer for the transgression of the law and the breaking of covenants, be whipped and suffer bondage before they could learn their lesson” (Smith, Way to Perfection, 129–30).