The story of the Lord’s people through the dispensations is a story of scatterings and gatherings, of dispersions and returnings. It is a pattern that is begun with Adam and Eve exiled from the Garden of Eden, and that will be completed only with the end of time when the Savior returns to cleanse and renew the earth. Between this beginning and its fulfilling come many other stories of gatherings and scatterings: the gathering of Israel to Egypt, the scatterings of the Jews and the other tribes, the journeyings of the Nephites, and even the movements of modern-day Israel.
The tenth article of faith, which recounts some of the major movements yet to be accomplished, also provides an overview of an important aspect of the mission and work of the Church: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” [A of F 1:10] The history and destiny of the covenant people of God is the history of the scatterings and gatherings of this people. As we follow their experiences throughout history, we see a unique pattern of God’s work in behalf of all mankind.
This is of particular interest to Latter-day Saints in 1982, because adults study this year the second half of the Old Testament, wherein they examine, sometimes microscopically, the details of some of the scatterings (Israel to Assyria, and Judah to Babylonia)—and at least one small gathering (Judah returning to Jerusalem). The events of this period take on a more meaningful wholeness if we can put them in the larger perspective as being significant aspects of the intended scattering of Israel throughout the earth, in order to bless the nations. This perspective lends understanding to the anguished laments and cries of Israel’s prophets as they watched God’s people destroy themselves and their potential for good; but the perspective also helps us understand their exuberant and joyful prophecies of the future gathering which the Lord lovingly promised would happen in the last days.
The gospel covenants were first established with Adam. In time, however, Cain led a rebellion among some of Adam’s posterity, an opposition that continued to grow until Enoch’s dispensational presidency. Enoch’s distinctive achievement was establishing a people who were in time separated and then taken up from the earth.
Eventually, only a remnant of the covenant people—Noah and his family—remained to be spared the judgment of the Flood. Their righteousness, however, was no guarantee for their children, and those who honored the covenant and those who did not eventually separated—first in their values, then literally as languages were confounded at the Tower of Babel.
We know of two remnant families who survived this time of chaos: the family of Shem, the patriarchal president who succeeded Noah, and the family of Jared, who eventually arrived in a chosen land. Despite the buffetings of apostasy, the gospel covenant passed from Shem down to Abraham. The Lord revealed that Abraham’s seed would be exiled to Egypt, “but in the fourth generation they shall come hither again.” (Gen. 15:16.) The Lord also promised that “thy seed shall … spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south” for the purpose of blessing “all the families of the earth … with the blessings of the Gospel.” (Gen. 28:14; Abr. 2:11.)
The displacement of the covenant people came in the day of Jacob (also known as Israel), Abraham’s grandson. The children of Israel arrived in Egypt, first as guests, then as captives. Generations later, Moses restored them again to their promised land but also “sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Priesthood, but he could not.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964, p. 159.) When it became clear that Israel wasn’t ready to enter into God’s rest (see D&C 84:19–25), Moses’ mission was to give them a lesser law that could lead them to the Messiah. But while individuals were eternally blessed by their obedience, the nation as a whole suffered through periods of disobedience and rebellions, and another scattering of God’s people began.
Moses prophesied to Israel that this dispersion would be a “scatter[ing] … among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen.” (Deut. 4:27.) This testing and scattering was thorough and gradual and would continue to the time of the first coming of the Messiah, and on to a time of restoration when a gathering would be instituted.
The Old Testament account records the known scatterings which followed the time of Moses. In spite of deviations from covenant law and the deprivation of prophetic leadership for a time, a struggling kingdom emerged. Under the direction of Saul, David, and Solomon, Israel became a powerful, prosperous, united people. However, violation of divine law resulted in the formation of two separate states, a northern kingdom variously called “Israel,” “Ephraim,” and later “Samaria,” and a southern kingdom known as “Judah.”
Jeroboam was the first ruler of the new Israel, which comprised the northernmost ten tribes. Since he feared the influence of Solomon’s temple, located in Judah’s capital, Jerusalem, he unlawfully excommunicated the authorized priesthood and established a new state religion of idolatrous worship with a pseudo-priesthood. His act precipitated the migration of the ousted Levites, along with many steadfast believers, to Judah.
The northern kingdom’s experiments with idolatrous worship were the ruin of its kingdom and people. Then a series of Assyrian invasions finally resulted in the exile of most of the ten tribes to Assyria, from which they eventually escaped northward. At this point, they are lost from the scriptural record, though it contains prophecies of their returning from the north in the latter days. (See Jer. 31:8; 3 Ne. 17:4.) A few survivors of this nation remained to respond to the religious reforms of Judah’s King Hezekiah, and some accepted his successor’s, Josiah’s, invitation to participate in the renewed celebration of the feasts of Jehovah.
While the spiritual and moral deterioration of the kingdom of Judah was more gradual, the intrusion of idolatrous practices finally resulted in its dispersion and destruction at the hands of Babylon. Some of the righteous people were led away before this deportation by the Babylonians—Lehi and his family, for instance, and also Mulek and his associates.
Three waves of deportation brought thousands of the southern kingdom’s people into exile in Babylon and saw the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Even the poor, originally not deported, were eventually sent to Egypt. Ezekiel, among the refugees in Babylon, prophesied that the Lord would continue the scattering of the kingdom of Judah “among the nations, and disperse them in the countries.” (Ezek. 12:15.) This final long dispersion of Judah has become known as the diaspora of the Jews.
When the Persians rose to power, decrees of Cyrus and Darius permitted Judah’s return in a series of large migrations that built the second temple in Jerusalem under the direction of prophets. Many of Judah did not return but remained in Babylon; over a number of centuries most of them relocated in other lands, furthering the scattering of Israel.
In time, those who had returned fell into apostasy again. Between the Old and New Testaments came some additional scatterings. After the Persians, the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquered the area, followed by the Ptolemies, another Greek family who ruled in Egypt. Though they were tolerant of the people of Judah, they deported large numbers of people to Alexandria, where they prospered. The small nation of Judah in Palestine, however, was soon seized by the Greek Seleucidians, tyrannical and intolerant rulers from the north whose persecution brought further scattering because many sought to escape. Nationalism and religious zeal erupted into the Hasmonean (Maccabean) revolt, which brought a short period of independence. However, internal power struggles betrayed the people to Roman domination prior to the time of Christ.
The Messiah’s first advent ended with his rejection and death at the hands of people of his own nation, but not before he warned that they should “be led away captive into all nations.” (Luke 21:24.) The catastrophic Roman conquest under Vespasian in A.D. 70 brought the final scattering from the land of promise. The dispersion of Judah continued from land to land until all the prophecies of scattering were fulfilled.
Then it came time for the great cycle to reverse itself at the reestablishment of the gospel covenant through the Prophet Joseph Smith. On 3 April 1836 in the Kirtland Temple Moses, the first great gatherer, appeared and returned “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.” (D&C 110:11.) It was the beginning of the promised gathering. Moses had declared: “The Lord thy God will … gather thee from all the nations.” (Deut. 30:3.) Ezekiel had written: “I [the Lord] will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.” (Ezek. 36:24.) Jeremiah had comforted: “He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.” (Jer. 31:10.) Truly, the concept of a final, latter-day gathering of the Twelve Tribes was a great consoling factor in the minds of Israel’s prophets who had hoped so fervently that the Lord’s covenant people would have been strong and righteous in this day.
President Spencer W. Kimball has said of these scriptures: “The gathering of Israel is now in progress. Hundreds of thousands of people have been baptized into the Church. Millions more will join the Church. And this is the way we will gather Israel. It is to be done by missionary work.” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary,” New Era, May 1981, p. 46.)
With the Church’s recent growth, it is sometimes difficult to maintain perspective on the gathering of Israel and how it relates to us today. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has provided the following outline of the gathering.
“If those of us who have been gathered again into the sheepfold of Israel are to play the part assigned us in the Lord’s eternal drama concerning his people, we must know that some things relative to the gathering of Israel are past, some are present, and yet others are future. …
“The gathering of Israel and the establishment of Zion in the latter days is divided into three periods or phases. The first phase is past; we are now living in the second phase; and the third lies ahead. Prophecies speak of them all. …
“The three phases of this great latter-day work are as follows:
“Phase I—From the First Vision, the setting up of the kingdom on April 6, 1830, and the coming of Moses on April 3, 1836, to the secure establishment of the Church in the United States and Canada, a period of about 125 years.
“Phase II—From the creation of stakes of Zion in overseas areas, beginning in the 1950s, to the second coming of the Son of Man, a period of unknown duration.
“Phase III—From our Lord’s second coming until the kingdom is perfected and the knowledge of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea, and from then until the end of the Millennium, a period of 1,000 years.
“We live in the age of restoration. Peter calls it ‘the times of restitution,’ meaning the period or time in the earth’s history when that which once was shall be restored in all its original glory and perfection. He says the things to be restored include ‘all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.’ (Acts 3:21.) And there are few things of which Israel’s prophets have spoken with more fervor and zeal than the latter-day gathering of the house of Jacob and the part that favored people will play in the building of Zion again on earth.
“Many things have already been restored, and many things are yet to be restored. Israel has been gathered in part, but in many respects the greatest part of the gathering of Israel is ahead. …
“Our tenth Article of Faith says, ‘We believe in the literal gathering of Israel.’ This gathering occurs when the lost sheep of Israel come into the Church. It occurs when their sins are washed away in the waters of baptism, so that once again they have power to become pure in heart; and Zion is the pure in heart.
“Our Article of Faith says that ‘We believe … in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.’ This is in the future. It will occur when the Lord brings again Zion, according to the promises.
“Our Article of Faith says ‘that Zion (the new Jerusalem) will be built upon this [the American] continent.’ This also is future and will occur after the Lord’s people have gained strength and influence and power in all the nations whither he hath scattered them.
“Our Article of Faith says ‘that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.’ This is also future, a day which we devoutly desire and seek. (A of F 1:10.)” (Ensign, May 1977, pp. 115–116, 118.)