Relief Society Lesson 42: The Gathering of Israel
I love and am a little obsessed with Jewish culture and history, so the content of this lesson as it goes in the manual is a bit too cut and dry for me. Maybe even boring? But even so, I think a very different type of discussion can come out of what it means to gather Israel, both physically and spiritually.
I would start this lesson out by skipping the first section. I’m not sure where I fall on understanding the need to have a chosen people of God, so I would probably not get into a discussion of this aspect, though it could easily be mentioned that Jacob became Israel and his sons are the progenitors of the 12 tribes if there is a need for this clarification depending on the class members. I also don’t favor the view that we need to set ourselves up in an “us vs. them” mentality, so I would rather move along to the more inclusive aspects of the need to gather as a people.
That said, I think it would be interesting to test the knowledge of your class by prefacing the idea that in order to gather, something has to be scattered and separated. I would ask class members what their knowledge is of the events that led to the dispersal of the tribes of Israel, and use the second section for reference, or even acquaint yourself with more of the history for some fun fact sharing.
The third section, dealing with the reasons to gather Israel, is a bit more problematic in its use of forceful language, stating that as a people, we “must fulfill the covenant to be a blessing to all the world.” I would stay away from statements of must and shoulds, and focus more on the idea that “The house of Israel is now being gathered as they accept the restored gospel.” Now, I don’t necessarily think that members of the tribes of Israel, wherever they are found, are in dire need of the gospel in order to lead good lives or be on the path that God has laid out for them. Certainly, being exposed to the teachings of Christ may enrich their lives and bring them joy, but again, I would stay away from implying that their lives are not complete or that they will be better people by joining the Church. In any case, this leads on to the more meaty and I believe more pertinent fourth section of the lesson, the “how will the house of Israel be gathered”.
In this section, I think it is important to point out that though there was a more literalist belief in the early Church of gathering physically, that today, “modern prophets have taught that Church members are to build up the kingdom of God in their own lands.” However, I find it interesting that the scriptural reference in the lesson to 2 Nephi 9:2 infers a perspective that is quite similar to the beliefs and desires of the Zionist Movement. The Jewish people themselves (who identify as Zionists) as a remnant of the house of Judah, and not Israel in general, wish to be physically “gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and….. established in all their lands of promise.” I think part of this is the reason that we tend to conflate the gathering of Israel with the controversial act of Aliya and the establishment of a Jewish state, called Israel in a misleading and misunderstood political game. Many Jews are not in fact in favor of gathering to Jerusalem and consider it to be against the teachings of the Torah. Of course, much of this is neither here nor there in teaching the lesson, but it doesn’t hurt to be correctly informed of the differences and similarities between the two.
What is more important is our attitude toward conversion of what we consider to be the widespread descendants of the 12 tribes, some of which are still considered to be lost. It is unclear from the lesson whether we are accomplishing this intentionally, and seeking out the literal progeny of Israel’s sons, or merely progressing toward an ultimate goal by doing the work regardless. Proselyting and temple work appear to be moving us forward in the eyes of the Church, even though we are taught that the end result will not be accomplished before the coming of Christ. So it appears that the lesson itself is to serve as a reminder to be a member missionary and build up the kingdom wherever we may be, and to push more names through the temple to cover our bases.
But the take away message that I prefer to get from this lesson, is that it is important to come together spiritually in some fashion, and to strengthen each other by centralizing ourselves around Christ. The idea of gathering around a central focal point is appealing to me even when I feel to reject the attitude that we must convert the whole world to our perspective. I would personally lean more heavily on this aspect of the concept of gathering if I were teaching, and perhaps even explore what it means to gather around Christ and His teachings for a more spiritually nourishing and uplifting lesson.
Some questions I would ask are:
Why do you think Israel needed to be scattered and subsequently gathered? (Because I’m just curious what others think about this)
Do you believe all literal descendants of the tribes will need to join the Church before Christ comes again?
How do you feel about literal gathering places in our own Church history and prophecy, and how does this compare to the desire for Zionists to gather?
What purposes and benefits do you see in gathering as stakes in Zion around the world?
How can we “gather” around the message and teachings of Christ?
Can we do this and not be members of the LDS Church?