I love Israel. I love the nation, the land, the history, and generally the people. Sadly, many Jews have come to America and have strayed from their faith. But many have also returned home and found it again. Israel means “wrestles with God.” One thing is certain for me, God has a covenant with Israel and although it may seem impossible, He will honor that covenant.
I grew up in a city with many Jewish people. I also work with many in my current profession. Even my Jewish friends who are not religious at all, like me, seem to believe that Israel is special, that it has a unique and unparalleled place in history, and that there is a Spirit there that is palpable.
I can tell you from my own experience, that the Jews are a persecuted people. They are hated by many people and many nations. It was common for the mostly Jewish high school basketball team in my county, for example, to have bagels thrown at them while shooting free throws and at other times during the game, whether on their home court or on ours. And I mean 100s of them, all at once. Along with cream cheese containers, while screaming racial obscenities. It was the 80s of course, which meant it didn’t even make the news and no one ever got into trouble. We never had such issues erupt at our school when the visiting teams were all black. These amazing Jewish students never retaliated. They were accustomed to such treatment sadly. As for the Jewish kids in our own school, they too were incredibly gracious and forgiving during such occurrences. I’m amazed and ashamed in looking back, at the actions of our student body.
In the 90s I traveled to Lebanon. When I realized how close I was to Israel I decided to go into a travel agency and inquire about the best way to get there. When I inquired, the travel agent became immediately frazzled. She said, “We do not have service to that place.” I pressed, “But it’s so close, how do I get there?” She pushed a button behind the counter and several soldiers walked in with their fingers casually next to the triggers of their automatic weapons. When I told them I wanted to go to Israel, they nicely shushed me and said, “Please we do not speak of the neighbors to the South.” They must have liked me as they were very polite and I assume saw me as a young and naive American. “Can I just walk or take a bus there?” I asked. They chuckled and replied “no” not unless I wanted to get killed by Hezbollah.
I was so astonished that I was literally within a few miles of Israel and not only could I not get there, but I couldn’t even say the word Israel! And this was in a nation that seemed at the time, so incredibly civil, with a huge Christian population. Most of my Lebanese friends were Christian and even many of them naturally disliked Israel, even while “loving” Jesus. Lebanon was at the time a very Western nation (still is in many ways), boasted as the Switzerland of the Middle East because of its international banking and business, coupled with beautiful Mediterranean beaches and its incredible mountains close by.
Sadly I could not get into Israel on that trip. The next time I found myself in the Middle East I was more deliberate. I took a flight from UAE into Jordan (there were no direct flights at the time from UAE into Israel — that was against their laws) and traveled to the border in Amman. We stood in line with an American Christian missionary serving in Syria and he coached us on what to tell the Israeli border patrol. He told us to make sure to ask them nicely to NOT stamp our passports or we may not be able to return to other Middle Eastern nations. If Syria for example, sees that your passport has a stamp showing that you even once traveled to Israel, they will NOT let you in their country. The same for Lebanon and many other Middle Eastern countries.
Just as we were approaching the counter, the border agent quickly stamped the passport of our new Christian friend. The woman did not listen to him or hear him apparently as he asked her not to. The man broke down into tears. He had been serving a mission in Syria for some time and was scheduled to stay much longer and now he was stuck. He could not go back to Syria and would have to go through a lot of trouble in going back to the US, getting a new passport and a new Visa. I was extremely careful after watching what happened to him.
My LDS friend in UAE, whose father was Iraqi and also a converted member of the LDS Church, did not especially like Israel and dared not travel there.
The Book of Mormon warns us gentiles to not hate or curse the Jews:
O ye gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay, but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads, for I the Lord hath not forgotten my people.2 Ne. 12:9 RE Scriptures
Those who have and believe in the Book of Mormon, of all people, should not despise the Jews but should seek rather to recover them.
As I spent a couple of days in Israel, I was overcome with the spirit I felt there. The water in the River Jordan spoke to me. The garden of Gethsemane was overwhelming. The Via Dolorosa. The amazing Old City. The Dead Sea. Somehow in my heart, I knew that the most important history of the world had its foundations there. I felt a strangely deep connection as if I had been there before.
One night we followed a rush of people heading somewhere in the Old City. They seemed to be running late. I saw Orthodox Jews with their young sons. It seemed to be a men-only meeting they were hastening to. Curious, I followed. It led me through a metal detector and into a well lit open-air place. It was the famous Wailing Wall. Hundreds of men, brothers it seemed, gathered to commemorate the day Moses came down from the mountain with the Law. Being in awe and naive, I was filming the whole thing. Then a man approached me with a kind smile on his face who said, “Shalom my brother.” I replied, “Hello!” He then, with all the kindness and meekness in the world, informed me that they don’t generally allow filming or pictures. His gentle rebuke was in no way unkind or awkward. As I put my camera away, he was kind to visit with me and ask me where I was from. He also took the time to tell me why all these men (brothers) were gathered. I marveled as I looked at all these men fellowshipping together. The feeling was very reverential but also celebratory and excited. People seemed to be delighted to see each other and to visit with one another. I had never felt or seen such a brotherhood in my life. It spoke to me. There was a power there. As an active LDS person, I was very humbled by this experience. It was clear to me that these people had something I didn’t. Or at least, they too had something that was sacred and unique, which I had not before supposed possible.
As the day of the Lord approaches, I think we will see more Jews convert to Christianity. I hope we do. I’ve been enjoying listening to one of my favorite songs sung in Hebrew by a Messianic Jew named Joshua Aaron. It’s truly inspiring. I include it here and hope you love it as much as I do.
The words of this song are found in the Old Testament and are words that have been sung by faithful Israelites for hundreds of years.
May God bless Israel. May we be counted worthy to be counted among them. I worry that the Lord’s words will be fulfilled that all these things will be returned upon our own heads, for I the Lord hath not forgotten my people. What does that mean? Here’s a related scripture that is worth pondering.
Behold, I say unto you that the house of Israel was compared unto an olive tree by the spirit of the Lord which was in our father. And behold, are we not broken off from the house of Israel? And are we not a branch of the house of Israel? And now the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fullness of the gentiles is that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief — yea, for the space of many years and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men — then shall the fullness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the gentiles, and from the gentiles unto the remnant of our seed. And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel and that they are the covenant people of the Lord. And then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him. Wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved. And then at that day, will they not rejoice and give praise unto their everlasting God, their rock, and their salvation? Yea, at that day, will they not receive strength and nourishment from the true vine? Yea, will they not come unto the true fold of God? Behold, I say unto you, yea, they shall be numbered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree; and this is what our father meaneth. And he meaneth that it will not come to pass until after they are scattered by the gentiles. And he meaneth that it shall come by way of the gentiles, that the Lord may shew his power unto the gentiles for the very cause that he shall be rejected of the Jews, or of the house of Israel. Wherefore, our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days, which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying, In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.1 Ne. 4:3 RE Scriptures
What does it mean that “it shall come by way of the gentiles, that the Lord may shew his power unto the gentiles, for the very cause that he shall be rejected of the Jews?” Is it possible that it means that because we the gentiles (including if not directly referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all Mormon denominations and all American and non-American Christian gentile people and nations) have rejected the Fulness of the Gospel (or are rejecting it), God will then show us by His power, that we, just like the Jews did, shall also stumble, look past the mark, and be cursed, for our unbelief? Thus having all these things returned upon our heads because we have forgotten God’s covenant with Israel and have mocked His people rather than seeking to recover them?
Can we say we have NOT rejected the Fulness of the Gospel? Can we say we are better than the Jews who have not yet come unto Christ? What is this fulness anyway?
Now, this, Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God, but they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence. Therefore, the Lord, in his wrath (for his anger was kindled against them) swore that they should not enter into his rest — which rest is the fullness of his glory — while in the wilderness. Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also. And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holds the key of the ministering of angels, and the preparatory gospel, which gospel is the gospel of repentance, and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron, among the children of Israel, until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the holy ghost from his mother’s womb. For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power: to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power.T&C 82:13 RE Scriptures, emphasis added
Could it not also be said that Joseph, like Moses, also sought to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God? Is it possible that the early saints hardened their hearts and thus could not endure His presence? Whatever one chooses to believe, the result of whatever the early Nauvoo saints received or did, was Joseph and Hyrum being taken from their midst.
The only way to demonstrate that we have received His Fullness and are thus redeemed by Him, is to do as the Lord proclaims in the Book of Ether:
And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord shewed himself unto him and said, Because thou knowest these things, ye are redeemed from the Fall. Therefore, ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I shew myself unto you. Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life; and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name. And they shall become my sons and my daughters. And to none of those now living whom I created have I appeared, for none have believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. Behold, this body which ye now behold is the body of my spirit. And man have I created after the body of my spirit. And even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.Eth. 1:13 RE Scriptures, emphasis added
We don’t speak much anymore of this kind of thing. In fact, sadly some of today’s Church leaders warn against teaching this doctrine of Calling and Election or “Redemption” calling it a trick of the devil. Yet, for Joseph, like for Moses, this teaching was the very purpose of the Gospel being restored:
“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, is baptized for the remission of his sins, and receives the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness and living by every word of God. The Lord will soon say unto him, ‘Son, thou shalt be exalted.’ When the Lord has thoroughly proved him and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John [KJV], in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses” (TPJS, 150; WJS, 5; see John 9:7–9). “I’ve not said much about Calling and Election. I think focusing on that topic is a mistake. It will take care of itself if you can get the Second Comforter.”1 Joseph Smith said: “1st key: Knowledge is the power of salvation. 2nd key: Make your calling and election sure. 3rd key: It is one thing to be on the mount and hear the excellent voice, etc., and another to hear the voice declare to you, You have a part and lot in that kingdom.”2 Nephi speaks again with the Father’s words: Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life (2 Nephi 13:4). This is the purpose of receiving the Second Comforter. Christ’s objective, as a tutor, is to bring His followers to the Father. It is the voice of the Father which finally declares to His children they are assured Eternal life.3 When the Lord promises a blessing, it is always tied to faithfulness and obedience.4 Even when promises are unconditional, such as in having one’s calling and election made sure, years of faithfulness precede the promise. The promise is premised on the continuation of faithfulness. And no one is relieved of the necessity of enduring to the end, even when their calling and election is made sure.5 The highest form of acceptance and redemption is to have one’s calling and election made sure, to be washed and cleansed from sin every whit.6http://scriptures.info/scriptures/tc/glossary/calling-and-election
I believe and I testify that we become Israel after we wrestle with God and work out our salvation through the merits of Christ. We will know we are His when He shows Himself unto us and says “Son (or daughter), thou shalt be exalted.” We then are redeemed from the Fall and have accepted the Fulness of His Gospel. Until then, we are damned and are stuck here in this Telestial Kingdom, worlds without number.
The miracle of the recent treaties between certain Middle Eastern countries and Israel is both unbelievable and a sign that God is moving His Hand upon Israel. He always keeps His Promises.