“Hurrah for Israel!” is what Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball shouted as they bid farewell to their sick families (in 1839) and departed on their mission to England, despite being ill themselves.
While this story is often used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an example of optimism and sacrifice, for me the biggest lesson is in the choice of words. Why did those men choose the words “hurrah for Israel” to strengthen and inspire themselves and their loved ones? Why not shout something like “The Church is true!” or “All will be well!” or “The family is forever!”?
The phrase “Hurrah for Israel” is not one that I hear very often in the Church, unless said in reference to that story. But how would our lives be different if we made “hurrah for Israel!” our personal battle cry in our families, and understood what it means? How would that affect our influence in the world?
A couple months ago, as I was in labor with our second child, one of the things I did to pass the time in the hospital was watch a video about the life of John the Baptist. After watching the scene where an angel appears to John’s father, I commented to my husband, “What would it be like to have an angel tell you exactly what your child’s mission is? How would that affect your parenting?” No sooner had I said those words then I heard a voice in my mind say, “You should know exactly what that feels like. Angels HAVE declared your child’s mission: to gather Israel.”
After that incident, I felt drawn to do more research into the gathering of Israel, and into the angelic visitations associated with it. I was reminded of the appearance of Moses and Elias to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple in 1836, as recorded in D&C 110 verses 11-12:
“Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north. After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.”
As I started writing down my thoughts about the gathering of Israel, I realized I had a lot of unanswered questions. My biggest question was, “What’s the difference between ‘gathering Israel’ and ‘gathering all of God’s children?’ I mean, since anyone can be adopted into the house of Israel when they make certain covenants with God, is ‘gathering Israel’ just a fancy way to conceptualize the gathering of all God’s children?”
In the midst of my pondering on this question, I was drawn to notice a promotional email in my inbox from BYU Continuing Education. Normally I delete such emails without even opening them, but this time I felt like opening it. This email was advertising BYU’s virtual Education Week, and it featured a video clip from a talk by Brad Wilcox about the gathering of Israel, where he said the following:
“The goal isn’t to gather Israel as an end in and of itself. The goal is to gather Israel so that Israel can gather all of God’s children home to him. The goal isn’t just to have everybody declared from Israel. The goal is for those who have come from this special lineage to step up, step out, and to make a difference by helping all of God’s children have the opportunity to be gathered into God’s eternal family.“
After watching that clip, I was hooked. I purchased access to BYU Education Week just so that I could hear the rest of Brad Wilcox’s message. It was worth it, because that talk answered all my questions and more!
Regarding my biggest question, Brad Wilcox explained that there is indeed an important distinction between gathering Israel and gathering all of God’s children. The gathering of Israel is a prerequisite for Christ’s second coming. When Christ comes again, THEN the gathering of all God’s children will truly commence. But Israel has to be gathered first so that there is leadership and organization and resources in place all over the world, trained and ready to assist Christ in gathering billions of God’s children in the millennium.
As I began to understand the proper order of who was being gathered and when, my experiences as a missionary suddenly made so much more sense. I used to be confused when my mission leaders said to find the “elect,” because I thought “shouldn’t everyone be elect?” But now I understand that “elect” doesn’t mean chosen to be saved, it means willing to be a part of the gathering of Israel. Thus, the goal in missionary work right now isn’t just to convert and baptize as many people as possible. Most people aren’t ready to receive the gospel at this time, and that’s okay! We only need to find those who are willing to take on the extra responsibilities given to the family of Israel, or, as president Nelson explains it, those who are willing to “let God prevail” in their lives right now.
As I pondered the other implications of Brad Wilcox’s explanation, everything about my purpose started to click. I realized my role in gathering Israel is about more than recruiting people into the house of Israel; It’s about helping the house of Israel realize who they are. It’s about nurturing and building a strong team of leaders who are willing to step up and change the world. It’s about helping each other increase in knowledge and faith and priesthood power. It’s about taking on extra responsibilities to not just prepare for Christ’s second coming but to be ready to assist Christ in his work once he comes.
That helps me see my role as a mother in a whole new light. I used to think training my children to “gather Israel” meant encouraging them to share the gospel with every person they meet. That may be part of it, but additionally, raising children to gather Israel means teaching them to be leaders and to take initiative and make a difference in every situation.
As I strive to focus more on helping to gather Israel, I don’t necessarily need to do more than what I was already doing (being a mom, living the gospel, etc.). But by raising my awareness of how my actions help to gather Israel, I can be empowered in numerous ways.
Joseph Smith explained this empowerment when he said, “He who scattered Israel has promised to gather them; therefore inasmuch as you are to be instrumental in this great work, he will endow you with power, wisdom, might, and intelligence, and every qualification necessary; while your minds will expand wider and wider, until you can circumscribe the earth and the heavens, reach forth into eternity, and contemplate the mighty acts of Jehovah in all their variety and glory.” (History of the Church, 4:129)
I suspect that the reason Brigham Young and Heber C Kimball shouted “Hurrah for Israel” is because they had heard Joseph preach similar words as contained in the quote above. What’s more, they had a special understanding of the importance of the gathering Israel and rejoiced at their role in initiating that gathering. (After all, Moses had given them the keys to the gathering of Israel only 3 years earlier.)
In light of what I’ve been learning about the gathering of Israel, lately I’ve tried to shift my self-talk as I go about my day-to-day life. Instead of being driven by thoughts like “How can I be better?” I try to replace those with thoughts like “Hurrah! Israel is being gathered!” and “How am I participating in the gathering of Israel?” By thinking this way, I’m less caught up in my own shortcomings and limitations and more caught up in the joy and wonder of God’s great and marvelous work.
In recent addresses, President Nelson has repeatedly emphasized the gathering of Israel, calling it “the most important work in the world.” I suspect the reason for this emphasis is that as we are drawing closer to the second coming, it is becoming more important that we be filled with the same enthusiasm about the gathering of Israel that Brigham Young and Heber C Kimball experienced.
In his October 2020 General Conference address entitled “Let God Prevail,” President Nelson said, “When we speak of gathering Israel . . . we are referring, of course, to missionary, temple, and family history work. We are also referring to building faith and testimony in the hearts of those with whom we live, work, and serve. Anytime we do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—to make and keep their covenants with God, we are helping to gather Israel.”
Even in President Nelson’s gratitude challenge last November, he made clear that the underlying purpose was to step up to who we are as covenant Israel. After explaining his challenge to flood social media with gratitude posts, he said, “Perhaps this will fulfill, in part, the promise God gave to father Abraham, that through his descendants, all families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This goes to show that even when we do something as small as making a Facebook post, we can think “Hurrah for Israel!”
The Savior said “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). I used to think that “losing” one’s life could be achieved by constantly asking “how can I serve someone today?” But that type of focus doesn’t necessarily cause me to lose myself, because the focus is still on me—on how I as an individual am becoming more saint-like through service. But when I focus on the gathering of Israel . . . now there’s a work that is big enough and complex enough to actually feel lost in.
The more I learn about the gathering of Israel, the more I see the phrase “Hurrah for Israel” as something we can shout not only when we leave on missions but also when we walk out the door, or even when we get out of bed in the morning.
And on that note, “HURRAH FOR ISRAEL!”