Many instructive parallels exist between the exodus from Egypt of the Israelites under Moses and the exodus from the United States of the Latter-day Saint pioneers under Brigham Young. We can learn much from these stalwarts of ancient and modern Israel.
Generally, historical sketches and pageants have portrayed well what the pioneers did. But only a few writers have delved deeply enough to explain why. Even fewer have reported the similarities between the pioneer trek and the exodus from Egypt. An obvious likeness is that both groups had their inland sea of salt water and a Jordan River. But there were many other very significant similarities. Ancient Israel and modern Israel are linked arm in arm.
Ancient Israel had leaders before Moses, and modern Israel had a prophet-president before Brigham Young. The predecessors for each group also bore a resemblance to each other. A name common to both was Joseph—Joseph who was sold into Egypt and the Prophet Joseph Smith. Few men in the Old Testament are of greater importance to Latter-day Saints than is Joseph of Egypt. Many of us claim lineage from him through his sons Ephraim or Manasseh. The Book of Mormon reveals:
“A part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. … Even as this remnant of garment … hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed … be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself” (Alma 46:24).
The pioneers were remnants of that precious seed. They knew that Joseph Smith had been chosen by the Lord to take up the labors of the tribe of Joseph, son of Jacob. Centuries earlier, Joseph had prophesied of Joseph Smith and had described their kinship:
“Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers.
“And I will give unto him a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him. And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work” (2 Ne. 3:7–8).
The name of Joseph applied not only to Joseph Smith Jr. but to the Prophet’s father as well. Again I quote from Joseph who was sold into Egypt:
“Behold, that seer [Joseph Smith] will the Lord bless; … for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. …
“And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation” (2 Ne. 3:14–15; see also JST, Gen. 50:26–38, Bible appendix).
Jacob’s son Joseph and Joseph Smith had even more in common. At age 17 Joseph was informed of his great destiny (see Gen. 37:2–11). At the same age Joseph Smith was informed of his destiny regarding the Book of Mormon. At age 17 he was first visited by the angel Moroni, who informed the boy prophet that “God had a work for [him] to do.” He was to translate a book written upon golden plates containing the fulness of the everlasting gospel. His “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues” (JS—H 1:33; see also JS—H 1:34–41).
Both Josephs endured persecution. Joseph of old was falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and was put into prison (see Gen. 39:11–20). Joseph Smith suffered incarceration on trumped-up charges and false accusations.
Joseph’s coat of many colors was taken from him by his brothers in a cruel attempt to convince their father that Joseph had been killed (see Gen. 37:2–33). Joseph Smith’s life was cruelly taken from him, largely because of betrayals by false brethren.
Anciently, when “all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do” (Gen. 41:55). In the latter days, people starving for nourishment that only the gospel can provide are again to be fed—by Joseph. The Lord declared that “this generation shall have my word through [Joseph Smith]” (D&C 5:10). Today we may “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:3) because of Joseph Smith.
Moses and Brigham Young
Moses and Brigham Young had much in common. They were astute followers before they became great leaders. Moses had been prepared in the courts of Egypt and had gained much experience in military and other responsibilities (see Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston, 2.10.1–2; see also Acts 7:22; Heb. 11:24–27). Brigham Young was likewise prepared for his leadership role. In the march of Zion’s Camp he had observed the leadership of the Prophet Joseph Smith under difficult conditions (see History of the Church, 2:61–134, 183–85). Brigham Young aided in the removal of the Prophet Joseph from Kirtland (see History of the Church, 3:1–2; see also Elden J. Watson, ed., Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801–1844 , 23–24). He also directed the move of the persecuted Saints from Missouri to Nauvoo (see History of the Church, 3:250–52, 261; see also John K. Carmack, “Missouri Era: Residue of Wisdom,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Missouri, ed. Arnold K. Garr and Clark V. Johnson , 2–3).
For both the Israelites and the Saints, civil and ecclesiastical law were unified under one head. Moses bore that responsibility for his people (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith , 252). Brigham Young—the modern Moses (see D&C 103:16) 1 —led the Latter-day Saints’ movement west, with the Lord’s blessing (see D&C 136). Moses and Brigham Young followed parallel patterns of governance (see Ex. 18:17–21; D&C 136:1–3). Brigham Young organized the large group of men, women, and children for an orderly migration to the West.
We lament that leaders of both groups had to endure dissension from their close associates. On occasion Moses encountered opposition from his beloved Aaron and Miriam (see Num. 12:1–11). Latter-day leaders also suffered contention among their trusted associates (see History of the Church, 1:104–5, 226). Nevertheless, the same unified pattern of government will come again when the Lord shall be “King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2; see also Zech. 14:9) and govern from Zion and Jerusalem (see Isa. 2:1–4).
The journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai took about three months (see Ex. 19:1). The journey from Winter Quarters to the valley of the Great Salt Lake also took about three months (111 days). The destination for each group was described by the Lord as a land flowing with milk and honey. 2 The pioneers turned their wilderness into a fruitful field and made the desert blossom as a rose—precisely as prophesied by Isaiah centuries before (see Isa. 32:15–16; Isa. 35:1).
Both groups shared many miracles that are memorialized annually. The celebration of Passover relates to the travels of the ancient Israelites. And each July we repeat legendary stories of our pioneers. Both groups traversed deserts, mountains, and valleys of untamed wilderness. Ancient Israelites left Egypt via the parted waters of the Red Sea “as by dry land” (Heb. 11:29). The pioneers left the United States crossing the wide waters of the Mississippi River—frozen to become a highway of ice.
The book of Exodus reports that quail were miraculously provided to feed the hungry people of ancient Israel (see Ex. 16:13; Num. 11:32; Ps. 105:40). The pioneers had an equivalent experience. After the last of them had been driven out of Nauvoo, many were sick and some had died. Their provisions were meager. On the river bottoms near Montrose, Iowa, on 9 October 1846, many quail miraculously flew into camp. The quail were cooked and fed to some 640 destitute people (see Stanley B. Kimball, “Nauvoo West: The Mormons of the Iowa Shore,” BYU Studies, winter 1978, 142). 3
It was also miraculous that a permanent settlement survived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Seagulls that saved the crops were part of that miracle.
God preserved ancient Israel from plagues sent upon Egypt (see Ex. 15:26). Similarly, God preserved the Saints from the plague of the United States Civil War, which caused more American deaths than any other war.
Spiritual Strengths Shared
For both the Israelites and the Saints, their travail forged great spiritual strength. They both endured trials of their faith, during which the weak were winnowed away and the strong were empowered to endure to the end (see Ether 12:6; D&C 101:4–5; D&C 105:19). They had to leave their homes and earthly possessions and learn to rely wholly upon God. Protection was provided for ancient Israel by the Lord, who “went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire” (Ex. 13:21; see also Ex. 13:22; Num. 14:14; Deut. 1:33; Neh. 9:19). The same has been said of the divine watchcare afforded to the pioneers (see History of the Church, 3:xxxiv; see also Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 56).
Scriptures given to both societies speak of the strength of the Lord’s hand in their deliverance. To those of ancient Israel, Moses said, “Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place” (Ex. 13:3).
To the Latter-day Saints, a comparable scripture was revealed: “For I, the Lord, have put forth my hand to exert the powers of heaven; ye cannot see it now, yet a little while and ye shall see it, and know that I am” (D&C 84:119).
The children of Israel had a portable tabernacle wherein covenants were made and ordinances were performed to strengthen them on their journey. 4 Many Latter-day Saints were endowed in the Nauvoo Temple before their arduous trek westward.
The Israelites gratefully celebrated their exodus from Egypt. The Latter-day Saints commemorated their exodus with the establishment of the world headquarters of the restored Church in the tops of the mountains. All celebrants acclaimed their deliverance by God (see Jer. 23:7–8).
Timeless Gospel Principles
Scriptures available to ancient and modern Israel include timeless principles of the gospel. You may be familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah:
“Thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust” (Isa. 29:4).
Could any words have been more descriptive of the Book of Mormon, coming as it did “out of the ground” to “whisper out of the dust” to people of our day?
Other Old Testament passages foretold the Book of Mormon. One such came to mind when I attended a prayer breakfast in January 1997 at the White House in Washington, D.C. During an informal reception that preceded the breakfast, I was chatting with a distinguished and scholarly Jewish rabbi from New York. Our conversation was interrupted by another rabbi, who asked his colleague from New York if he could recall the scriptural reference to the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph that would come together one day. My friend paused for a moment, stroked his chin pensively, and then replied, “I think you will find that in the book of Ezekiel.”
With that, I could not restrain myself. “You might look in chapter 37 of Ezekiel,” I interjected. “There you will find the scriptures that you seek.”
My rabbi friend expressed surprise: “How did you know that?”
“This doctrine,” I concluded, “is very important in our theology.” Indeed it is. I would like to quote from it:
“Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
“And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand” (Ezek. 37:16–17).
Saints of modern Israel throughout the world are blessed to hold the Bible and the Book of Mormon as one in their hands. The worth of this privilege must never be underestimated. Isaiah described the spirit of the Book of Mormon as “familiar.” It resonates with people who know the Old Testament, especially those who are conversant with its Hebrew language. The Book of Mormon is rich with Hebraisms—traditions, symbolisms, idioms, and literary forms. It is familiar because more than 80 percent of its pages came from the same time frame as parts of the Old Testament.
Timeless truths and principles of the gospel were and are important to people of ancient and modern Israel. The Sabbath day, for example, was honored for different reasons through the generations. From the time of Adam to Moses, the Sabbath was observed as a day of rest from the labor of creation (see Ex. 20:8–11; Ex. 31:16–17). From the time of Moses to the Resurrection of the Lord, the Sabbath also commemorated the liberation of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt (see Deut. 5:12–15; Isa. 58:13; Ezek. 20:20; Ezek. 44:24; Mosiah 13:19). In latter days, Saints keep the Sabbath day holy in memory of the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; D&C 59:9–19).
The restoration of the priesthood rejuvenated the principle of tithing, linking to the Old Testament teachings of Genesis and Malachi (see Gen. 14:20; Mal. 3:8–12). Saints of modern Israel know how to calculate their own tithing from this simple instruction: “Those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord” (D&C 119:4). In contrast, have you ever amused yourself with the thought that the filing of income tax returns is a bit more complicated? I’ll confess that I have.
Turning our attention again to the timeless truths of the gospel, none are more vital than those associated with temple worship. They are another connection between ancient and modern Israel.
Whenever the Lord has had a people on the earth who will obey His word, they have been commanded to build temples in which the ordinances of the gospel and other spiritual manifestations that pertain to exaltation and eternal life may be administered (see Bible Dictionary, “Temple”).
The best-known temple of ancient Israel was Solomon’s temple. Its baptismal font and dedicatory prayer provided patterns that are employed for temples today (see 2 Chron. 4:15; 6:12–42; D&C 109). Old Testament scriptures refer to special clothing (see Ex. 28:4; Ex. 29:5; Lev. 8:7; 1 Sam. 18:4) and ordinances (see Ex. 19:10, 14; 2 Sam. 12:20; Ezek. 16:9) associated with temples (see D&C 124:37–40). How thankful we are that the Lord chose to restore the highest blessings of the priesthood to His faithful sons and daughters. He said, “For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 124:41).
Revealed truth that we know as the Word of Wisdom came to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1833. Every Latter-day Saint is familiar with it as one of the enduring hallmarks of our faith. The final verse of that revelation forges another link back to ancient Israel: “And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:21). This reference to the Passover shows that the Lord wanted obedient Saints of modern Israel to receive physical and spiritual protection just as He had provided for His faithful followers centuries before.
The Covenant, the Scattering, and the Gathering
Other divine teachings revered by both societies include doctrines of the Abrahamic covenant and of the scattering and gathering of Israel. About 4,000 years ago, Abraham received a promise from the Lord that blessings would be offered to all of his mortal posterity (see D&C 132:29–50; Abr. 2:6–11). Included were promises that the Son of God would come through his lineage, that certain lands would be inherited by his posterity, that nations and kindreds of the earth would be blessed through his seed, and more. Affirmations and reaffirmations of this covenant are evident in many scriptures of the Old Testament (see Gen. 26:1–4, 24, 28; Gen. 35:9–13; Gen. 48:3–4).
Although certain aspects of that covenant have already been fulfilled, many have not. The Book of Mormon teaches that we of modern Israel are among the covenant people of the Lord (see 1 Ne. 14:14; 1 Ne. 15:14; 2 Ne. 30:2; Mosiah 24:13; 3 Ne. 29:3; Morm. 8:15). And, most remarkably, it teaches that the Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled only in the latter days! (see 1 Ne. 15:12–18). The Lord once again bestowed the Abrahamic covenant, this time upon the Prophet Joseph Smith, to be a blessing upon him and his posterity after him (see D&C 124:58).
Did you know that Abraham is mentioned in more verses of modern revelation than in all verses of the Old Testament? 5 Abraham—this great patriarch of the Old Testament—is inextricably linked to all who join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6
Doctrines relating to the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel were also among the earliest lessons taught in the Book of Mormon. I quote from 1 Nephi:
“After the house of Israel should be scattered they should be gathered together again; … the natural branches of the olive-tree, or the remnants of the house of Israel, should be grafted in, or come to the knowledge of the true Messiah, their Lord and their Redeemer” (1 Ne. 10:14).
Saints of modern Israel know that Peter, James, and John were sent by the Lord with “the keys of [his] kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times,” in which He would “gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (D&C 27:13; compare Eph. 1:10).
The travels and travails of our pioneers were of eternal consequence. Their mission was not limited to an international immigration or a transcontinental migration with wagons and handcarts. They were to lay the foundation of an endless work that would “fill the world” (Joseph Smith, quoted in Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham , 39). They were essential to Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock” (Jer. 31:10). 7
They got the message. Missionaries were sent very early to “the isles afar off” to commence the work of the Lord. As a result, the Church was established in the British Isles and in the islands of French Polynesia years before the pioneers entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
The lineage of Joseph, through Ephraim and Manasseh, is the seed appointed to lead in the gathering of Israel. The pioneers knew—through their patriarchal blessings and the Old Testament, amplified by scriptures and revelations of the Restoration—that the long-awaited gathering of Israel was to commence with them. This “ball” was in their court!
Early converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were pioneers of modern Israel. Regardless of the time or place in which Saints may live, all faithful members of the Church will receive their just reward. “All things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (D&C 76:59).
Ancient and modern Israel subscribe to an ageless message of the Old Testament: “Know therefore that the Lord thy God … keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9). 8
Upon our shoulders lies the responsibility to keep the faith through our own generation. This “ball” is now in our court! We of modern Israel are destined to be “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). We know that we are children of the covenant (see Acts 3:25; 3 Ne. 20:25–26). We are remnants of the seed now to be gathered and gleaned into God’s eternal garners (see Alma 26:5).
As Saints of modern Israel, we speak with one voice. We love our Heavenly Father. We love the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. We are His people. We have taken His holy name upon us. We know the Book of Mormon to be the word of God and hold it as one with the Holy Bible. We proclaim Joseph Smith as the great prophet of the Restoration. And we sustain President Gordon B. Hinckley as God’s gifted prophet of today.
Concerning Brigham Young’s role in that exodus, President Spencer W. Kimball wrote: “Since Adam there have been many exoduses and promised lands: Abraham, Jared, Moses, Lehi, and others led groups. How easy it is to accept those distant in time as directed by the Lord, yet the ones near at hand as human calculations and decisions. Let us consider for a moment the great trek of the Mormon refugees from Illinois to Salt Lake Valley. Few, if any, great movements equal it. We frequently hear that Brigham Young led the people to make new tracks in a desert and to climb over mountains seldom scaled and to ford and wade unbridged rivers and to traverse a hostile Indian country; and while Brigham Young was the instrument of the Lord, it was not he but the Lord of heaven who led modern Israel across the plains to their promised land” (Faith Precedes the Miracle , 28).
For the ancient Israelites, see Ex. 3:8, 17; Ex. 13:5; Ex. 33:3; Lev. 20:24; Num. 13:27; Num. 14:8; Deut. 6:3; Deut. 11:9; Deut. 26:9, 15; Deut. 27:3; Deut. 31:20; Josh. 5:6; Jer. 11:5; Jer. 32:22; Ezek. 20:6, 15; Inspired Version, Ex. 33:1. For the pioneers, see D&C 38:18–19.
An oil painting depicting this event is Catching Quails, by C. C. A. Christensen, located in the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University.
Ordinances and covenants of ancient Israel are cited in 1 Cor. 10:1–3; for those of modern Israel, see D&C 84:26–27. The tabernacle of ancient Israel had been intended to be a movable temple before the people lost the higher law (see D&C 84:25; D&C 124:38).
Abraham is mentioned in 506 verses of scripture, 289 of which are in modern revelation.
The word gather comes from the Hebrew verb qabats, which means “to gather, assemble.”
See also Deut. 11:1, 27; Deut. 19:9; Deut. 30:16; Josh. 22:5; 1 Jn. 5:2–3; Mosiah 2:4. Other Old Testament scriptures refer to rewards for those obedient to God’s commandments through a “thousand generations” (see 1 Chron. 16:15; Ps. 105:8).