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The Latter-day Jewish Restoration

The Latter-Day Jewish Restoration

The writer explores theological grounds for the Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel, including the idea of a major influx of Jewish immigration yet to occur. He discusses the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, its spiritual purpose and how its construction might come about within the current political climate of the Middle East. A Mormon perspective, as seen through the eyes of the tribe of Ephraim (which too has been gathering) throws the prophetic light of probability on issues that, to humanity at large, may at present appear implausible.

The Jewish Return to the Land of Israel

The modern miracle that is the State of Israel, which David Ben Gurion and his associates declared its own land and nation in 1948, attests to the hand of God operating to restore his covenant people the Jews. The collective pioneer spirit that animated Israel’s Zionist founders consisted of more than the sum total of their individual aspirations in establishing the Israeli nation. In many ways it paralleled an earlier rebuilding of the Promised Land at the time Jewish groups returned from Babylon to restore Jerusalem and its temple: “Then rose up the heads of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites with all those whose spirit God had raised up” (Ezra 1:5). God’s “raising up” the spirits of the Zionist pioneers was abundantly manifested in their idealism, enthusiasm, and devotion in taking on the task of transforming a barren and desolate land into a garden Paradise—draining swamps, creating irrigation systems, cultivating farmland, planting forests, and constructing housing.

Indeed, from the inception of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s, when religious Jews opposed resettling the Land of Israel on the basis that secular Zionists Jews were usurping the prerogative of the Messiah to lead their return, a higher power appeared at work in favor of Theodor Herzl and his associates. Although small religious communities had settled centuries earlier in the learning centers of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safad, and Tiberias, these pockets of Jewish presence could not be deemed a significant historical movement or a fulfillment of prophecy. Later, when religious Jews saw the success Zionist Jews were having, they joined the migration, conceding that even this was a mitzvah—a “commandment”—if perhaps the only one secular Jews observed. It remains unclear, however, just where in holy writ God “commands” and not just encourages Jews to return to the Land as that idea properly applies to Israel’s endtime exodus from a centuries-long exile (Isaiah 11:10–12; 43:5–8; 52:11–12). 

It is something of a historical irony, then, that religious Jews today are outperforming secular Jews on the very point in which they once reproached them. Early Zionists negotiated with Arab clans to purchase lands and sought to maintain friendly relations with the local populace. Jewish immigration picked up after Britain conquered Palestine from the Turks during World War I, leading to the Land’s partition under the British Mandate. In spite of cultural differences between the industrious Zionist pioneers and the Land’s endemic inhabitants, calm prevailed for a time. But when Muslim nations began expelling long-time Jewish citizens, invalidating their residency and confiscating their property, many migrated to Palestine. Lands acquired later and maintained for self-defense were a consequence of wars incited by Arab nations who denied the legitimacy of Jewish ancestral claims. In these conflicts, too, the hand of God was evident as in every war the fledgling Israeli nation gained an improbable victory.

Today, however, not only does the religious Jewish minority seem to be surpassing what could possibly be construed as a “commandment”—by expropriating lands occupied by Arabs, claiming they belong to Jews—they have sought to control the process of Jewish immigration. In their about-face, could these religious Jews not themselves now be usurping the role of the Messiah? Are we to understand that their inflicting injustices on the local populace—downgrading their humanity and treating with contempt others of Abraham’s children—is somehow sanctioned of God? Or, rather, don’t such actions merely emulate those of their erstwhile persecutors? Where in their society, for example, does one observe Abraham’s practice—still followed by Arab residents to this day—of showing kindness to strangers and hosting them in his tent? And even after God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the Land of Canaan, didn’t they still purchase parcels of land from its inhabitants (Genesis 25:10; 33:19)?

It seems anomalous, therefore, that Jewish settlers’ religious fervor could pass as a kind of self-legitimizing force that may infringe on the rights of locals, many of whom, as the Ben Zvi Institute determined, are in reality not pure Arabs but descendants of Christianized and Islamicized Jews. Where do today’s religious zealots derive the authority to disinherit non-Jewish residents, even if many of them are themselves modern imports from Arab lands? Isn’t expecting blessings to flow from oppressing others a way of denigrating God; or the policy to occupy every piece of dirt a destructive movement that is dragging secular Jews down with it? Doesn’t such a course in actuality betray a distrust of God by the very community that purports to represent him—taking matters into their own hands in case God won’t keep his word? Indeed, it displays disdain for the secular majority that has primarily been responsible for rebuilding the Land, as if their being secular somehow precludes their fulfilling prophecy.

A Theology that Justifies the Jewish Return

Applying a biblical perspective, let us determine what theological grounds exist for the Jewish people’s return to the Land God had promised their ancestors. Under Moses, a series of circumstances occurred that has never repeated itself. Although God had bequeathed the Land of Canaan unconditionally to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—after they had proven righteous before him and toward all men—he nevertheless didn’t grant it unconditionally to their descendants. Rather, the Land was a blessing predicated on their descendants’ observing the law Moses received from God. Under the terms of the covenant God made with them at Mount Sinai—to which all Israel consented (Deuteronomy 5:3)—all were obligated to keep the Law or they could not be blessed with the Land. Covenant blessings, moreover, weren’t limited to a land of inheritance but extended also to the people’s prosperity, to the increase of offspring, and to divine protection (Deuteronomy 28), blessings similar to those of Israel’s ancestors.

Simply being the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in other words, never qualified a people to take possession of the Land. They themselves had to obtain it, and God’s covenant provided the means. Not only that, but according to the terms of the Sinai Covenant—which is a collective contract, not an agreement made individually as with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Israel could not inherit the Land until it observed the Law as a nation. Because Israel was now a covenant people—God’s “servant” and “son” (Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 41:8)—all were obliged to keep the covenant’s terms. Those who recanted or pursued a different course perished in the wilderness. Recall that it took forty years to get Israel to the point that it could take possession of the Land. Only then was a “holy war” justified (if indeed one may call it that), which consisted of a prophet—Moses—appointing a military leader—Joshua—to lead the Land’s conquest. Following any other course would have put the entire nation at risk.

In fact, when one man reneged on his commitment by concealing the spoils of war in his tent, Israel’s entire army suffered reverses. Upon Israel’s casting lots, the tribe of Judah was found culpable, and within Judah the clan of Zerah and the family of Zabdi. At Joshua’s bidding, the people stoned to death and burned the perpetrator, Achan the son of Carmi and his household because by his covetousness he had compromised the lives of the whole nation (Joshua 7). (Note: Just as a man’s posterity constitutes a chief blessing of God’s covenant, so a doomed posterity—as with Achan the son of Carmi’s—constitutes its curse.) After Israel executed the offender and his family, God restored his protection and Israel was again victorious. As additional such incidents showed, the fact that under a national or collective covenant one man could endanger an entire people had to be taken seriously. And yet, many people who don’t take these covenantal considerations into account consider Jehovah a vindictive God.

But even when all covenant requirements were in place, Israel’s inheriting the Land still depended on its indigenous inhabitants’ spiritual degradation. Didn’t God tell Abraham that his descendants could not enter the land he had promised him until the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Genesis 15:16)? An ancient American prophet of Jewish descent summed it up this way: “The Lord esteems all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people [the prior inhabitants of the Land] had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them and did bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers, unto their obtaining power over it” (1 Nephi 17:35). Lest we assume that the Land’s indigenous peoples had no access to God’s Word, Balak’s rejection of Balaam’s prophesy shows that indeed they did (Numbers 22–24).

Another way the Middle East today differs from Moses’ day is that many of its inhabitants descend from Abraham, whom God promised all the Land from Mesopotamia to Egypt (Genesis 15:18). Besides Isaac—Abraham’s son by Sarah—and Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau by Rebekah, those descendants include Ishmael—Abraham’s son by Hagar, ancestor of the Arabs—and Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah, Abraham’s sons by Keturah (Genesis 16:3, 11; 25:1–6). Many of these descendants of Abraham still live in the Middle East today. In its primal context, therefore, God’s granting Abraham all the land from Mesopotamia to Egypt (Genesis 12:7; 15:18) must account for those peoples also or God’s word would be invalidated. Because at the time God promised Abraham these lands no sons had yet been born to him, God’s pledge was by no means limited to a single nation of his descendants, especially as Abraham was to become a “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4–5; Abraham 1:2).

Successive guarantees to Isaac and Jacob of the same Land God promised Abraham, however (Genesis 26:3; 28:13; 35:12), changed the dynamics of God’s promise. Without detracting from his word to Abraham, if all the land from Mesopotamia to Egypt was likewise to be the heritage of Isaac’s and Jacob’s descendants, then their connection to the descendants of Abraham’s seven other sons would accord with that of a birthright lineage in relation to its sibling lineages. In that case, rather than constituting grounds for banishing Abraham’s other descendants from the Promised Land, Jacob’s descendants inherited the responsibility to be a blessing to them, as was Joseph to his siblings in Egypt (cf. Genesis 28:14; 45:3–7). God’s covenant with Jacob, in other words—of which the Promised Land was a blessing—meant that Abraham’s other descendants’ inheriting the Land would thenceforth depend on their being numbered with Jacob’s descendants so that they likewise might acquire the Land as a blessing.

Although Abraham sent his sons by Hagar and Keturah eastward away from Isaac (Genesis 25:6, 18), the places they settled were within the land from Mesopotamia to Egypt God had promised him. Because Jacob’s descendants subsequently rebelled against him, however, God exiled them to distant parts of the earth. First, Assyria took captive and transplanted Israel’s ten northern tribes to other parts of its empire (2 Kings 15:29; 17:6, 23; 18:11; 1 Chronicles 5:26). Over a century later, Israel’s southern tribes were taken captive into Babylon (2 Kings 24:11–16; 25:1–11). Although God would turn it to good, Israel’s exile changed the dynamics of God’s promise even more. From then until now, as Jacob’s descendants dispersed throughout the world, many assimilated into the Gentile nations so that today these too can claim Israelite descent. Ultimately, therefore, the blessings of God’s covenant with Israel could extend to the nations of the world by right of lineage, not solely through a process of adoption.

That being the case, Israel’s endtime restoration now hinged on Jacob’s descendants’ fulfilling God’s plan (1) for Israel; (2) for Abraham’s other descendants; and (3) for all nations by renewing God’s covenant and keeping its terms, thus expediting the resumed flow of God’s blessings. Because any digression from God’s design was destined to fail, however, it fell to Israel’s birthright lineage of Ephraim to implement his will as did Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 50:19–21; cf. 48:20; Chronicles 5:2). Had God not predetermined that from the birthright tribe would emerge “saviors” who would restore Israel just as God had raised up saviors in the past: “In Mount Zion will be deliverance, and there will be holiness. . . . Saviors will ascend on Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau, and the kingdom will be Jehovah’s” (Obadiah 1:17, 21; cf. Nehemiah 9:27; Revelation 14:1); “For there will be a day when the watchmen on Mount Ephraim will cry, ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to Jehovah our God’” (Jeremiah 31:6)?

Religious Roadblocks to Fulfilling Prophecy

The current disconnect between God’s plan for Israel and many realities on the ground, on the other hand, attests to man’s mind and will superseding God’s. Rather than converging, what Israel’s prophets articulated and what moves men today seem to be increasingly diverging. In a land as key to God’s eternal purposes as the Land of Israel, that condition couldn’t last long without its inhabitants either making a course correction or suffering its effects in the form of national calamities. Whether men are cognizant of it or not, the blessings and curses of God’s covenant with Jacob’s descendants remain in place and continue functioning at all times. Whatever form covenant curses may take—weather damage, fires, economic downturns, decrease in foreign aid, terrorism, intifadas, or military setbacks—misfortunes inevitably follow deviation from divine law. The curses’ sole purpose is nevertheless to goad Jacob’s descendants into taking stock of their situation and realigning their goals with God’s.

From what has been discussed, how does the theological justification for permanently inheriting the Land of Israel match up with the State of Israel today? It doesn’t. No prophet has arisen to teach Jews the pure Law of God. No military or political leader has been appointed by divine investiture. And no covenant has been renewed with Israelis based on their Jewish heritage. Nor has the Law of Moses been kept by Israelis as a nation or the iniquity of the Land’s indigenous inhabitants declared full. What exists today, in other words, is a secular Jewish state, politically authorized by a League of Nations, which can claim no valid grounds for expanding its territory except as historical circumstances may allow. In short, until societal practices conform with divinely revealed principles, the nation remains vulnerable to compromising itself. This doesn’t mean, however, that historical circumstances aren’t guided by the hand of God, or that future developments won’t lead to the establishment of God’s kingdom on the earth.

What it does mean is that the history of Zionism has favored secular Jews more than religious Jews because of the latter’s radical leanings, and that until God raises up a prophet to the Jewish nation, secular Jews have shown a greater capacity for managing the affairs of state. In spite of today’s religious Jews’ ardently advocating the Jewish Return, they have displayed a less-than-grounded perspective of political realities when influenced by a fundamentalist agenda. When a religion acts as if man is made for the Law, not the Law made for man, or when the letter of the Law overrides the spirit of the Law, aberrant, unjust, and even criminal acts are perpetrated in God’s name. Having long been victims of religious persecution, Jews know this better than anyone. Likewise, when manmade tenets enter a religion—even if that religion originated with God—a shift in people’s theological orientation occurs. Instead of yielding the life-giving blessings of God’s covenant, it occasions their loss.

Aren’t today’s “price tag” acts of “retribution” against Israel’s Muslims, Christians, and other minorities, for example, indicative of an impaired religion? Not that of Moses and the prophets—who would undoubtedly be treated similarly if they lived today—but of a religion that, to the extent its paradigm deviates from God’s, causes chaos that impacts the entire nation. Doesn’t Isaiah warn that “the hostile ones of Judah will be cut off” (Isaiah 11:13)—that is, “cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:29–31)? And doesn’t “vengeance belong to God,” not to man (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1)? God’s perfect laws, on the other hand, not their manmade variants, possess an inherent power to create peace within ourselves and reconciliation with our environment even when that environment is adversarial. Many secular Jews possess an intuitive sense of this more than religious Jews as many principles of modern humanism reflect God’s law of treating one’s neighbor as he would be treated himself.

When Jacob’s sons resorted to violence to punish Shechem and his people for their sister Dinah’s defilement, Jacob rebuked them for taking vengeance into their own hands (Genesis 34). Which of today’s “hostile ones of Judah” perceives that the purpose of the Sinai Covenant is to bring the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to the spiritual level of their ancestors—men with whom God made unconditional covenants after they had proven righteous before him in all things? As it isn’t possible to resonate with the truth of God when practicing less than his law, don’t acts of hatred and violence attest to a people’s attaining the zenith of where their untruth takes them? Aren’t such acts symptomatic of a systemic malaise that illustrates Rabbinic Judaism’s inability to align itself fully with God’s law? As with Muslim atrocities against “infidels” and the Inquisition’s atrocities against Jews and “heretics,” aren’t they the outgrowth of a compromised belief system that delegitimizes that belief system itself?

Judaism’s assiduous reliance on secondary and tertiary sources of the Law and the Prophets such as the Mishnah and Talmud—instead of on primary sources in their holistic context—has happened largely because the loss of the temple at the Babylonian and Roman destructions of Jerusalem turned its focus to the core of what remained—the Law of Moses. The temple as a sacred place of instruction was replaced by rabbinic academies in which the theology of the prophets and the experiential application of God’s laws and covenants were subsumed under an umbrella of dos and don’ts in the Mosaic Code. To make sure Israel’s calamities resulting from its lack of observing God’s Law would never recur, an overemphasis was placed on the Law. That, however, created a new problem—an ethnocentric view of the world that lost sight of Israel’s saving role toward humanity. One has only to note the many humanitarian causes secular Jews support in contrast to those originating with their religious counterparts.

The “Right of Return” to the Land of Israel that the Israeli government offers all Jews, though it is a legal political statute, nevertheless carries no assurance of permanent inheritance in the Land God grants as a blessing to those who keep his law. In that sense, the “Land of Israel” symbolizes a more glorious and divine inheritance that God promises his elect in the world to come. By superimposing the spiritual dimension of “repenting” or “returning” (swb) to Israel’s God by keeping his law (cf. Isaiah 1:27; 55:6) upon the physical dimension of “repenting” or “returning” (swb) to the Land of Israel (cf. Isaiah 35:10; 51:11), a person completes the process in which the Jewish Return finds ultimate legitimacy—that is, so long as it is God’s law the person keeps, not a sullied version of it that passes for his law. Even where deviations from divine law differ only slightly from what God has instituted, those deviations prevent him from favoring his people with the full complement of his covenant blessings.

When God’s law is skewed by man’s misconstruing its intent—interposing his own notion of how it should be performed or circumvented—its blessings are voided. It becomes but a hollow ritual that mocks God and lacks the power for good. It creates a mindset of attributing more importance to an outward observance of law than to the inward transformation that was its purpose. If a piece of land is sold to a non-Jew for the duration of a Sabbatical year so that the land can still be worked, does the land really rest in the seventh year? Does the injunction, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19), really require a complete separation of meat and milk products, separate cooking and eating utensils, and so forth, when three “men”—Jehovah and two angels—ate Abraham’s meal of butter, curds, and veal (Genesis 18:8)? Should a woman be humiliated by shearing her hair so that no air bubble may possibly remain when she ritually bathes? Are such practices of God’s making or man’s?

As for temple ordinances that are based on Israel’s renewal of God’s covenant, on making individual covenants with God, and on Israel’s mission of saving humanity, these too wait to be reinstituted through the same process of repenting and returning to God by living his pure law. That process, however, extends beyond the Mosaic Code’s regimen of dos and don’ts, though the one was to serve as a lead-in to the other. If not, religion too easily becomes a fa├žade—a garb of righteousness that cloaks corruption beneath. Not everyone who sports a kippa, streimel, or beard will be prepared to participate in the ordinances of the temple or even perceive what the temple represents unless he reclaims more of his Jewish heritage than is currently practiced. Nor does the Mosaic Code alone have the power to bless the world’s nations in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 18:18–19; Galatians 3:8; Abraham 2:9–11). Only a higher law grounded in God’s universal love is capable of accomplishing that.

A MormonConnection to the Jewish Return

How do these things relate to a Mormon perspective? First, it should be noted that the Mormon worldview is not that of traditional Christianity, which has been ambivalent about a Jewish return to the Land of Israel. Many Christians still cling to the idea that with the rise of Christianity prophecies about Israel’s physical return were fulfilled in an allegorical sense and are thus not to be taken literally. Others accept the influx of Jews to the Land of Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy but appear unaware that biblical predictions for the most part speak not of an incremental return, such as has occurred with the advent of Zionism, but of a mass exodus from the four directions of the earth—an event still future that far surpasses Israel’s exodus out of Egypt (Isaiah 11:11–12; 43:5–8; Jeremiah 16:14–16). Christians’ unfamiliarity with the Old Testament, in fact, has undermined their view of the New Testament that builds upon it, so much that the New Testament is itself misunderstood and misrepresented.

Christians generally also don’t differentiate between Jews, who principally descend from Israel’s southern tribes that occupied Judea—Judah, Benjamin, and Levi—and their northern counterparts of the Ten Tribes who went captive into Assyria and were lost from history. 4 Ezra 13:40–45 describes those Israelites as taking counsel together after their exile and undertaking a year-and-a-half’s journey northward beyond the River Euphrates. That would have taken them into Eastern and Western Europe. Even before Israel’s exile, however, the prophet Hosea had complained that Ephraim “has assimilated into the nations” (ba‘amim hu’ yitbolal) (Hosea 7:8). So may we not assume that the Ten Tribes’ dispersion and assimilation has increased exponentially over the past two-and-a-half thousand years? Must those exiles today, in that case, exhibit some form of modern Judaism to qualify as descendants of Israel? Hardly, especially as Rabbinic Judaism is a post-exilic metamorphosis of Hebrew religion.

That these peoples have been lost sight of historically as Israelites, however, doesn’t mean they are lost to God or that prophecies of their return won’t at some point be fulfilled. On the contrary, the prophets declare that Israel’s restoration—not only of Judah but of the entire twelve-tribed kingdom—will occur in the endtime (Isaiah 11:10–14; Jeremiah 30:3, 24; Ezekiel 37:15–22). Because God cares for all his sheep, ethnic and assimilated, he promises to bring them back from the ends of the earth to the lands he promised their fathers (Isaiah 41:8–9; Jeremiah 16:14–15; Ezekiel 36:24–28). To that end, he will raise up his servant David and restore them (Isaiah 49:1–23; Jeremiah 23:5–8; Ezekiel 37:21–27). And didn’t Jacob predict that in the latter days Joseph’s son Ephraim would become the “fulness/consummation of the Gentiles” (melo’ haggoyim) (Genesis 48:19)? That suggests that this lineage on which Jacob bestowed the birthright would play a far-reaching role to the end of time.

Whom else do we suppose comprise the kings and queens of the Gentiles who carry Israel home in its endtime exodus if not foreordained descendants of Israel who had assimilated into the Gentiles, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that kings would come out of their loins (Genesis 17:6; 35:11)?: “Thus says my Lord Jehovah: ‘I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles, raise my ensign to the peoples; and they will bring your sons in their bosoms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, queens your nursing mothers’” (Isaiah 49:22–23); “The Gentiles will come to your light, their kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you! They have all assembled to come to you—your sons shall arrive from afar; your daughters shall return to your side” (Isaiah 60:3–4); “He will raise the ensign to the Gentiles and assemble the exiled of Israel; he will gather the scattered of Judah from the four directions of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12).

Just as Jacob’s son Joseph, whom Pharaoh made ruler of Egypt, was a savior to his brothers during a seven-year famine (Genesis 41–47), so the descendants of Ephraim the son of Joseph who assimilated into the Gentiles will serve as saviors to the tribes of Israel: “They who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence. And a highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep. Their enemies shall become a prey unto them. . . . And they shall be filled with songs of everlasting joy. Behold, this is the blessing of the everlasting God upon the tribes of Israel, and the richer blessing upon the head of Ephraim and his fellows. And they also of the tribe of Judah, after their pain, shall be sanctified in holiness before the Lord, to dwell in his presence day and night, forever and ever” (Doctrine & Covenants 133:26–28, 34–35).

As early as 1833, the prophet Joseph Smith declared that “the tribe of Judah must return” and that the Jews would “obtain deliverance in Jerusalem” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, 17–18, 231). Having received revelations from God concerning the Jewish people (Doctrine & Covenants 77:15; TPJS, 14, 339), Smith sent Orson Hyde, one of twelve apostles, to Palestine to dedicate the Land of Israel for the return of the Jews. Hyde’s prayer on the Mount of Olives on October 24th, 1841, appeared in Hebrew and English on a plaque placed, with Mayor Kollek’s consent, in a designated garden on the Mount of Olives. Hyde’s prayer in part reads: “Let them [the nations of the world] know that it is thy good pleasure to restore the kingdom unto Israel, to raise up Jerusalem as its capital, and to constitute her people a distinct nation and government, with David thy servant, even a descendant from the loins of ancient David, to be their king” (History of the Church, 4:26, Deseret Book).

On his journey to Palestine, Orson Hyde attempted to persuade rabbis in European capitals that the time had come for Jews to return to the Land of Israel. In 1843, Joseph Smith further stated that “Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple, and the waters of the Dead Sea be healed” (TPJS, 286), reaffirming Hebrew prophecies of an expanded phase of Israel’s return (cf. Ezekiel 47:1–23; Joel 3:1–21). In a vision Smith received on 3rd April 1836, “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” (Doctrine & Covenants 110:11). Although Israel’s gathering was to begin with an initial return of Jews to Palestine, and with an initial gathering of Ephraim’s descendants on the American continent, these would later assist in the return of the main body of Jews and of Israel’s Ten Tribes (Doctrine & Covenants 133:13, 26–35).

While Christian ministers of religion ceaselessly persecuted Joseph Smith for his innovative teachings, the Christian world has ever since that time been playing catch-up, one by one claiming as its own the saving truths it once repudiated even while it still persecutes Mormons. From a Jewish perspective, however, if prophecies of Israel’s greater return are indeed to be fulfilled, can that occur by a minority of Jews claiming sole privilege to the Jewish ancestral heritage, or will it happen as a consequence of historical forces governed by a higher power? The prophet Zechariah evidently foresaw the division of Jewry into two factions at a time when Jerusalem would become a “burdensome stone to all people.” In that day, he predicted, God would “save the tents of Judah first, that the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem might not aggrandize themselves against Judah” (Zechariah12:3, 7). Doesn’t aggrandizing themselves against secular Jews reflect the feelings many religious Jews exhibit today?

If God will first save “Judah” (that is, the Jewish majority), isn’t that an affirmation that secular Israelis have conformed more to God’s design than the religious minority? In other words, that the principles that guided secular Zionist Jews from the beginning are still relevant today? For Israelis to come together on this point, it would indeed be timely for religious Jews to acknowledge the secular dimensions of the Jewish Return and for secular Jews to perceive its prophetic and theological implications. Armed with an understanding of their sacred heritage, secular Jews would realize that each individual may have a much greater impact on the collective Jewish nation than by what he considers his own private business. Like Achan the son of Carmi, he could harm the entire nation by living a hedonistic, immoral, and unethical life. Conversely, one who seeks to emulate the examples of Israel’s heroes may greatly exceed his own strength in helping to redeem the nation from evil and elevating its condition.

Zechariah’s reference to the “tents” of Judah (Zechariah 12:7) raises a further point, namely that God will implement Judah’s redemption at the time a majority of Israelis find a temporary need to dwell in tents. The “tents” motif in Zechariah’s prophecy harks back to Israel’s dwelling in tents during its wilderness wandering under Moses; or when enemies threatened to destroy Israel and it became expedient to return for a time to the lifestyle of its ancestors: “When the cloud was taken up from the Tabernacle, then the people of Israel traveled. In the place where the cloud abode, there the people of Israel pitched their tents. At the command of Jehovah the people of Israel traveled, and at the command of Jehovah they pitched [their tents]. So long as the cloud abode on the Tabernacle, they rested in their tents” (Numbers 9:17–18); “Jehovah gave Israel a savior, so that they came out from under the hand of the Syrians. And the people of Israel dwelt in their tents, as formerly” (2 Kings 13:5; cf. 1 Samuel 4:10).

The idea of Israel’s again dwelling temporarily in the wilderness resonates with prophets’ predictions of a new, endtime wilderness wandering: “‘I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations, and there will I plead with you face to face. As I pled with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you,’ says the Lord Jehovah. ‘I will cause you to pass under the rod and bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who transgress against me’” (Ezekiel 20:35–38); “So will I restore Jacob’s tents from captivity and have mercy on his dwellings. The city will be rebuilt on its own heap and the citadel return to its use. Out of them will issue thanksgiving and the sound of those who make merry. I will multiply them, and they will not be few. I will honor them, and they will not be small. Their children will be as hitherto, their congregation will be established before me, and I will punish all their oppressors” (Jeremiah 30:18–20).

The commandment God gave Israel through Moses to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles annually “in the seventh month” (Leviticus 23:41–44) will at that time have conditioned Israelis for their endtime wandering in the wilderness and their return to inherit the Land. God’s cloud of glory that protected the Israelites anciently from their enemies and from the elements will protect them again: “The angel of God who went before the camp of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face and stood behind them. And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. It was a cloud and darkness [to them], but it gave light by night [to these], so that the one came not near the other all night long” (Exodus 14:19–20); “Jehovah will form a cloud by day and a mist glowing with fire by night: above all that is glorious shall be a canopy. It shall be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, a secret refuge from the downpour and from rain” (Isaiah 4:5–6).

Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem Today

Another event the prophets predict as an integral part of Israel’s endtime restoration is the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem by a descendant of David named David. That event was foreshadowed by two Davidic predecessors: (1) Solomon, who built Israel’s first temple; and (2) Joshua the son of Josedech, who built the second. Although Isaiah associates the Persian emperor Cyrus with rebuilding the temple, a holistic seven-part literary structure that transforms the Book of Isaiah into an apocalyptic prophecy shows that the name Cyrus never designated a purely historical person. Rather, Cyrus and others whom Isaiah names established precedents that typify the numerous tasks God’s servant David performs. Isaiah 45:1, for example, depicts God’s servant as a composite of Cyrus and David, while Isaiah 44:26–28 depicts him as a composite of Moses and Cyrus. God’s endtime servant, in other words, resembles David, Moses, and Cyrus in restoring Israel. (Gileadi, Literary Message of Isaiah, 105–113.)

That is consistent with Isaiah’s use of precedents in general, in which God’s servant additionally resembles Abraham, Solomon, Hezekiah, and others in the redemptive roles he performs. The Isaiah chapters that mention Cyrus by name, moreover, form an integral part of an extended chiasm of thirty alternating chaos and creation motifs that spans chapters 41–46 of the Book of Isaiah. That literary device, and many rhetorical links, indissolubly identify this composite figure as both the “servant” depicted in Isaiah 42:1–7 and the warrior of Isaiah 41:2–3, 25; 46:11–13. (Literary Message of Isaiah, 96–144.) Isaiah’s method of predicting endtime versions of ancient events portrays this Davidic servant’s role as a new Moses who leads Israel’s new exodus out of “Babylon”; a new Joshua who leads Israel’s new conquest of promised lands; a new Gideon who overthrows a vast invading horde; a new Hezekiah who acts as Israel’s proxy savior; a new Cyrus who builds the temple in Jerusalem; and so forth.

Although the idea of rebuilding the temple has increasingly gained favor among Jewish religious groups, its political implausibility far overshadows even its most ardently advocated prospect. In view of the volatile climate of today’s Middle East, one could compare its very suggestion to the rantings of a false prophet. True prophets, on the other hand, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, were unwavering in predicting that the temple would be rebuilt and that Israel’s God would come into it, ushering in a long-awaited Golden Age (Isaiah 56:7; 60:7, 13; 66:1; Ezekiel 37:26–28; 40–47; Haggai 2:7, 9; Zechariah 1:16; 4:9–14; 6:12–15; 8:7–9; Malachi 3:1). That was similarly the position espoused by the prophet Joseph Smith, who taught, in 1843, “What [is] the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God, in any age of the world? . . . To build unto the Lord a house whereby he [can] reveal unto his people the ordinances of his house and the glories of his kingdom” (TPJS, 307–08).

Because the Jewish ancestral heritage consists of a totality of things, not a serendipitous mix of theological elements, to reject one part of it is to reject the whole. To anticipate an entire fulfillment of prophecy, in other words, aligns one with the final outcome of what God will do. Conditions accompanying the rebuilding of the temple would nonetheless have to be compelling indeed in the face of the world’s current political mood. What, in fact, could precipitate such a turn of events if not what anciently precipitated the building of Solomon’s temple—a place to house the Ark of the Covenant? The discovery of that artifact would radically alter the dynamics of today’s historical situation, signaling to Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout the world that portentous events were about to take place—that Israel’s redemption, to which many ancient prophets had looked forward, had at last arrived and that God, in his mercy and long-suffering, was once again intervening in the affairs of his people.

The whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant and its significance to Jews and to humanity in general have been a cause of wild speculation and even absurd movie dramatizations. While replicas of the Ark may exist that account for claims of its being carried into other lands, that idea seems out of harmony with the manner of God’s past dealings among his people that establish a pattern of what humanity may expect to occur again. Jeremiah’s prediction that his people would cease idolizing it and even forget about it (Jeremiah 3:16) lends credence to the tradition that he buried it before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. As Jeremiah freely “came and went among the people,” including among his priestly clan in the land of Benjamin, did that make it possible for him to hide the Ark to avoid its falling into the hands of the enemy? And did Jeremiah’s subsequent imprisonment have something to do with it (Jeremiah 37:4–16)? In his enigmatic account of that time, what can one read between the lines?

A clue to the Ark’s whereabouts may be found in the Book of Psalms, where David declares his wish to build a temple to house it. Although his words, “We found it in the fields of the forest” (Psalm 132:6), refers to Kiriath-Jearim (“City of the Forest”), where the Ark rested for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:1–2), those who believe in the dual nature of Hebrew prophecy might read into that statement the possibility of a second, endtime fulfillment. Kiriath-Jearim closely borders the land of Benjamin (Jeremiah 1:1). And although Jeremiah’s fellow Levites in his home town of Anathoth opposed him, a kindred spirit and contemporary of Jeremiah, the prophet Uriah the son of Shemaiah, hailed from Kirjath-Jearim (Jeremiah 26:20–23). As Jeremiah himself wasn’t put to death for prophesying, could there have been an ulterior reason King Jehoiakim pursued Uriah the son of Shemaiah all the way to Egypt to slay him besides Uriah’s prophesying “according to all the words of Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 26:20)?

But perhaps the biggest obstacle to rebuilding the temple lies in the attitude of everyday Israelis, who show little zeal for pulling off such an extraordinary feat. They may indeed be the People of the Book—the descendants of those whom God chose as his ‘am segulah, his “peculiar people” (Deuteronomy 14:2)—the children of those who observed the Law of Moses through millennia of exile and persecution. Nevertheless, the secularization of a majority of Jews, which began with the Age of Enlightenment that swept Europe in the eighteenth century, is today an accomplished fact. To many Israelis, what is the point of reliving the glories of a distant past by constructing a grand edifice on Mount Moriah that for them has lost much of its meaning? For one thing, the entire Muslim world would be in an uproar, and does Israel really need any more grief from that quarter? In short, there would need to emerge some exceptional reason for Israelis to rebuild the temple or it could forever remain a non-issue.

But supposing Israel’s prophets are correct, what could constitute a compelling occasion for Jews to take the idea seriously? It surely wouldn’t be the sacrifice of thousands of beasts as in Solomon’s day, even if the economy could sustain it. Who in today’s world wants to revive the kind of bloodbath reminiscent of a primitive age? Aside from that, a prophet from that very time predicted that in the earth’s millennial age “whoever slaughters an ox will be like one who kills a man, and whoever sacrifices a lamb as one who breaks a dog’s neck” (Isaiah 66:3). Clearly, the sacrifice of animals according to the Mosaic Code won’t be the order of the day, at least not on an ongoing basis. Its discontinuance in the minds of the prophets can mean only that by the time Israel’s restoration occurs animal sacrifice will have served its purpose. Because no animal, however ritually pure, can in reality atone for a higher species of God’s creation, animal sacrifice must have prefigured a more transcendent and eternal sacrifice.

A reason to build the temple would surely also exclude other ritualistic performances of the Mosaic Code that foreshadowed higher spiritual realities; or performances the rabbis devised in their attempts to “build a fence around the Law.” To many Israelis, Rabbinic Judaism’s strict observances resemble more a kind of servitude to ritual than a way of life that liberates and empowers. Who can conceive of a majority of Israelis following the rigid regimen orthodox Jews maintain who are largely supported by donations from abroad? Surely, that overlooks the purpose of the Law and would lead to economic and spiritual stagnation. A key question is whether Judaism’s religious practices are in fact creating, or are capable of creating, a people whose standard of righteousness compares to that of Israel’s patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who did not live by the Mosaic Code but to whom God nonetheless showed himself face to face. If God’s law doesn’t take one there, then what is its ultimate purpose?

A Divine Plan for Israel and for the World

Rather than seek answers within today’s metastasized religious paradigms, we must go back to before the first temple was built, before the Tabernacle was erected in the wilderness, and before priests and Levites were appointed to minister in it. The Book of Exodus reminds us that Plan A was for Israel to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). But when Israel could not live up to that lofty standard, it was abandoned for something more pragmatic. According to the biblical account, when Israel worshiped the Golden Calf, and Moses broke the two tablets written by the finger of God, Plan B went into effect (cf. Exodus 32:15–35). Israel received a lesser law, a law of restrictions and external performances that a people fresh from slavery among Egypt’s idols were capable of keeping (cf. Exodus 34:27–28). In fact, if Moses had not interceded with God on Israel’s behalf, God would have wiped out the people and started over, thus initiating Plan C (cf. Exodus 32:9–14, 31–32).

Still, from the beginning, certain individuals did follow Plan A. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and Israel’s seventy elders ascended Mount Sinai and “saw the God of Israel” and ate and drank in his presence (Exodus 24:10–11). This illustrates that the ecclesiastical order of that day differed from what Judaism preserves presently. Before Moses received the Law, righteous individuals such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others attained spiritual levels that later became identified only with high priests and prophets. Indeed, even before Moses had appointed Aaron and his sons to their priestly positions, lawful “priests” approached God on behalf of the people and “young men” offered sacrifices and burnt offerings (Exodus 19:22, 24; 24:5). After the Golden Calf incident, in other words, the institution of priests and Levites to permanent ecclesiastical office within the Mosaic Code would serve as a stopgap until Israel as a whole assumed its divinely ordained mission as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

What, then, was the nature of Israel’s mission or ministry that constituted Plan A? For an answer we must first ask why God chose Abraham, whose father Terah was an idolater and whose society suffered the curse of a famine (Joshua 24:2; Abraham 2:1)? A Mormon scripture states that God chose Abraham so that “through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever” (Abraham 1:19). In order to achieve that goal, God would “make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and priesthood unto all nations” (Abraham 2:9; cf. Genesis 12:1–3). If God intended Israel to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” then to whom would it minister in the priesthood, only to itself or to “all nations”? In what other manner might we assume that righteousness and peace would spread throughout the earth as Israel’s prophets predicted?

The Book of Genesis corroborates the idea of Abraham and his descendants’ influencing for good the nations of the world: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I do, seeing that Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him. And they will keep the way of Jehovah to perform righteousness and justice, that Jehovah may bring upon Abraham what he has spoken concerning him” (Genesis 18:17–19). In order for God to bless “all the nations,” he had to start somewhere, and that was with one man—Abraham. Then with his descendants, the people of Israel, all who would rise to the occasion on the model of Abraham, so that when Israel’s dispersion among the nations had served its purpose, all nations could learn to know the God of Abraham as the source of their salvation; and, like Abraham, “perform righteousness and justice” in order that universal peace might take root.

God’s blessing of Abraham was thus never an end in itself. These texts give no hint of any self-serving ethnocentricity. Rather, the opposite. God intended that all to whom he revealed himself—from Abraham to the least of his descendants—should implement his plan of salvation for the world. By fulfilling their ministering role, Abraham and his posterity would indeed grow renowned. But that would flow from their selfless service to humanity. God’s name would indeed be great among the nations. But that would be because the nations, through Israel, would be received into God’s covenant people (Isaiah 19:24–25; 56:3–8). In that manner, all could learn righteousness and, like Abraham, attain their full spiritual stature and be blessed of God. Did not God say to Abraham, “Walk before me and be perfect, and I will establish my covenant between me and you and multiply you exceedingly” (Genesis 17:1–2)? And as God covenanted with Abraham, will he not similarly covenant with his descendants?

Abraham as Role Model of His Descendants

The Book of Abraham further describes how the idolatrous priest of the god Elkanah attempted to sacrifice Abraham on an altar on which three virgins had just been slain because they refused to worship the gods of the Chaldeans. While Abraham was willing to die if God required it, he nevertheless called upon God, who sent the angel of his presence, who slew the priest of Elkanah and delivered Abraham (Abraham 1:5–20). Likewise, in Egypt, when Pharaoh took Sarah, his wife, Abraham again submitted to God’s will and suffered the loss of the love of his life (Genesis 12:15). And even when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, his only-begotten son by Sarah, Abraham was obedient, the angel of God preventing him only at the last moment and providing a substitute ram (Genesis 22:1–13). Each incident was a major test of Abraham’s loyalty that caused him deep anguish of soul, showing the manner in which God establishes covenant relationships with individuals on the highest spiritual levels.

The fact that God restored to him what Abraham prized most—his life, his wife, and his son—exemplifies the principle that, whether in this life or the next, God restores the sacrifice he requires. Still, although God walked and talked with Abraham, there is no evidence that he inherently loves one person more than another, only as they comply with his will and pass his tests of their loyalty. Hasn’t God ever sought the good of this world’s inhabitants, all of whom are his children? That means he will bless with the same blessings those who are willing to “do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39), who exercise the same faithfulness Abraham did, and who practice the same kindness Abraham showed his fellow human beings. As Isaiah asserts, just as God made a brit ‘olam—“an everlasting covenant”—with Abraham (Genesis 17:7, 19), so he makes a brit ‘olam with all who prove faithful to him under all conditions (Isaiah 41:8–9; 51:1–2). He may personalize his testing of each soul, but he blesses them the same.

That indeed was the essence of Plan A, and descendants of Abraham, beginning with Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, illustrate instances of it. The Book of Mormon describes the same pattern among descendants of Joseph: “There were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God” (Alma 13:10). What God has attempted several times since Sinai is to do for Israel as a nation what he did for Abraham as an individual. As a kingdom of “priests of Jehovah” and “ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6), they would be a blessing to their own posterity; and, additionally, to all nations by ministering salvation to the inhabitants of the earth: “I will appoint them a sure reward; I will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their offspring shall be renowned among the nations, their posterity in the midst of the peoples; all who see them will acknowledge that they are the lineage Jehovah has blessed” (Isaiah 61:8–9).

This implies that those priests would know God as Abraham knew him, that they would eat and drink in his presence as the seventy elders did, and that they would be a pure and sanctified people, more privileged in their ministry than other descendants of Adam and Eve. As neither Rabbinic Judaism nor traditional Christianity has attained that spiritual level, however—nor sprouted any movement that has attained it—Isaiah’s lament resonates: “We have not wrought salvation in the earth that the inhabitants of the earth might not fall away/abort” (yiplu) (Isaiah 26:18). And yet, paradoxical as it may seem, even though neither religious institution has duplicated the glories of Israel’s past, each claims to be the sole arbiter of God’s truth! Traditional religion, in fact, has not only failed to regain the privilege of seeing God as Moses and the seventy elders saw him, but it seems even to have lost sight of that prospect. Where today does one find the straight path to sanctification that leads into God’s presence?

The prophets nevertheless predict that in the “endtime” all aspects of Plan A will be realized. It isn’t for a lack of prophetic vision, therefore, that this has not occurred but because today’s belief systems are themselves impeding men’s faith—because “these people approach me with the mouth and pay me homage with their lips, while their heart remains far from me, their piety toward me consisting of commandments of men learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13). Believers’ carrying on as if a lesser law constitutes the whole law has led to their “ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Because to those who know him God is a personal God, not an abstract idea derived from Greek philosophy, a mystical force manipulated by deciphering cabbalistic cryptology, or an awe-inspiring specter that manifests itself when performing esoteric rites. God refuses to be denigrated by such profane means, and he will never reveal himself through them except to people’s condemnation.

The Temple’s Design—A Spiritual Template

Fortunately, God has provided a more accessible way for his people to know him. Didn’t the very architecture of Jerusalem’s temple foreshadow God’s exponential blessing of the nations through Israel? Didn’t its design demarcate distinct steps of induction into the knowledge of God? Indeed, the outer, middle, and inner courts typified successive levels of spiritual advancement that were exemplified by persons authorized to serve there—common worshipers, Levites, and priests, in that order—each category functioning on a higher ministering level than the one before. On the Day of Atonement, Jehovah appeared to the officiating high priest in the Holy of Holies—representing the highest spiritual level—although near the end of the Second Temple Period priests unworthy of that ecclesiastical office perished in his presence. Simply being authorized to serve as temple clergy didn’t guarantee divine favor. Nevertheless, the path for coming to know God was embedded in the temple’s architectural layout itself.

The fact that Isaiah and others who were not of the tribe of Levi or family of Aaron saw Jehovah in the temple, for example (Isaiah 6:1), shows that seeing God wasn’t limited to high priests. Rather, because the ritual qualifications of a high priest symbolized his increasing sanctity before God as he proceeded through the temple’s courts, the temple’s three-tiered structure evoked the prospect that others, too, could enter so long as their level of purity and sanctity matched that of the high priest. Put simply, a candidate’s godliness, as in Mormon temples (which are different in nature than Mormon churches), was based on his observance of divine law and on fulfilling a spiritual ministry presaged by his sequential passing through the temple’s courts and ultimately into God’s presence. Still, the examples of Abraham, Moses, Nadab, Abihu, the seventy elders, and others demonstrate that seeing God wasn’t limited to the temple, although the temple’s design reflected progressive levels of eligibility.

Being worthy to see God and enter into his presence, moreover, wasn’t so much a final objective as was becoming godlike oneself—that is, to resemble God in one’s personal attributes and perfections and in one’s increasing capacity to minister to mankind. Through a process of purification and sanctification while serving his fellow human beings, any person may attain the highest spiritual levels and assume divine attributes. Moses and Elijah, for example, exercised the very powers the Canaanites attributed to their god Baal, whom they claimed could subdue the forces of chaos. According to the Ugaritic myth of Baal and Anath, the storm god Baal (“Lord”) conquered his rival gods Mot (“Death”) and Yamm/Nahar (“Sea/River”), thereupon attaining the throne of his father ’El (“God”). Even in the Baal myth we thus find the principle of spiritual advancement, albeit in a corrupt form. Being the god of lightning and thunder, Baal purportedly restored fertility to the land, saving his people from starvation.

No wonder the Canaanites feared the people of Israel when Moses parted the Red Sea and Joshua parted the River Jordan! And didn’t the Israelites cheat death in the wilderness when they completed an improbable journey to the Promised Land? No wonder Baal was put in his place when Elijah caused fire to come down from heaven in his contest with the prophets of Baal, when he prayed and ended a three-and-a-half-year drought that Israel had brought upon itself, and when he multiplied the widow’s flour and oil and raised her son from the dead! Those manifestations of God’s power, which resumed in New Testament and Book of Mormon times, show that as men increase in righteousness before God they increase also in their capacity to exercise God’s power for good. What is it, then, that causes people today to so easily regard prophets and saints as an exclusive human species, so that in their minds the miracles they performed in God’s name are perceived as being beyond their own reach?

Over the centuries, Jewish cabbalists have pursued their quest to uncover God’s higher law purportedly encoded in the books of Moses that would empower them to perform similar miracles. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to unlock configurations of Hebrew letters that may hold the key to the mysteries of God. All the while, however, the theology that leads to divine empowerment has appeared in plain view in the writings of Isaiah. As an ancient Jewish prophet who migrated to the Americas observed of Jerusalem’s Jews in his day, “Because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14). And yet, didn’t God intend that this very “stumbling” might in the end persuade Jews to learn the simpleness of the way to knowing him?

Spiritual Gradations on a Ladder to Heaven

As noted previously, Isaiah’s writings identify seven definable spiritual levels that one can distinguish by the kinds of people the prophet describes. Persons who appear in the Book of Isaiah, in other words, exemplify progressive phases of existence identifiable by their character traits. In his vision of a ladder to heaven, Jacob saw angels ascending and descending, with Jehovah at the top (Genesis 28:12–13). Just as he describes what he saw as the “house of God” and the “gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17), so it is on Isaiah’s spiritual ladder. Angels and persons in higher spiritual categories minister to those lower, while they themselves are ministered to by ones above them. The purpose of this “house” or hierarchy of ascending levels is that God’s children who so desire may advance from one level to the next until they attain God’s presence. (Gileadi, Isaiah Decoded.) Their passing through the “gate”—signified by the veil in the temple that opens to the Holy of Holies—forms the final step in this process.

According to Isaiah’s model, persons who ultimately enter God’s presence are called his “sons” and “daughters” (cf. Isaiah 43:6–7; 49:22; 60:1–4). Elsewhere known as God’s “elect,” or “just men made perfect” (Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 12:23), with them God makes a brit ‘olam—an unconditional covenant as he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—after they prove faithful under all conditions (cf. Genesis 17:1–7; Isaiah 55:3; 61:8). Advancing further, Isaiah’s “seraph” category (Isaiah 6:6–7) functions on a spiritual level equivalent to that of Enoch, Moses, and Elijah. Such individuals are often “translated” or changed in their physical bodies (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11; Hebrews 11:5). They see visions of the end from the beginning (Moses 1:25–29; 7:67) and minister to nations and peoples. Identified as angels of God’s presence, they may come and go between the worlds in the course of fulfilling their ministries (cf. Genesis 18:1–2; Isaiah 6:1–6; 63:9; Luke 1:19; 3 Nephi 28:13–30; Abraham 1:15).

Ascending categories below these highest levels include that of “Zion” and “Jerusalem” (Isaiah 30:19; 37:22; 62:1). Having renewed their covenant with Israel’s God and kept its law or terms, its candidates receive a remission of their sins. Their covenant relationship with God nonetheless remains conditional until they are sanctified through keeping a higher law and ascend to the level of God’s “sons” and “daughters.” The category identified as “Jacob” and “Israel,” on the other hand, consists of believers in God who do not as yet keep the terms of his covenant but wallow in a state of spiritual inertia (Isaiah 40:27; 41:14; 43:22). Accompanying each ascent is a divine commission to minister to categories lower (Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 62:6–7). A candidate’s fulfilling that ministry forms a test of his loyalty to God and serves as the vehicle for his attaining the next highest level. Isaiah’s two lowest categories of Babylon and Perdition consist of people who spurn their Maker and descend the spiritual ladder.

Isaiah’s seven spiritual levels reveal a kind of systematic theology that defines a pattern of covenant relationships with Israel’s God or the lack thereof. While ascending levels are governed by covenantal requirements pertaining to each phase of ascent, for much of humanity the Jacob/Israel level acts as a pivot point. From there, people either ascend to Zion/Jerusalem or descend to Babylon. Certain souls, however, whom God chose for their faith and valor before being born (cf. Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5), come to this earth on higher spiritual levels and see God in their youth. As God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and is no respecter of persons (2 Samuel 14:14; Hebrews 13:8), these rose to exalted categories before beginning their earthly sojourn, becoming candidates for God’s assigning them leading spiritual roles (Alma 13:1–6; Abraham 3:22–23). In other words, while there were “angels who kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6), many did keep it and some to greater degrees than others.

When we perceive how God relates to his children according to Isaiah’s model of a ladder to heaven, and then apply what we learn backward and forward in time, we reach some remarkable conclusions. First, people in any age of the world—from Adam and Eve to the present—fit somewhere within this divine hierarchy or “house of God” (Genesis 28:17). In the Sinai wilderness, for example, the congregation of Israel, the Levites, the seventy elders, and Moses parallel the same four ascending categories that appear on Isaiah’s spiritual ladder—Jacob/Israel, Zion/Jerusalem, God’s sons and daughters, and seraphs. These, in turn, correspond with the four levels of purity and sanctity represented by the outer, middle, and inner courts of the temple that led to the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant with its cherubim. Knowing the characteristics of each phase of ascent, therefore, makes it possible to match any person or people with their current spiritual level within this heavenly hierarchy.

Second, Isaiah’s depiction of each ascent as a “creation”—in the sense of a rebirth or re-creation to a higher spiritual level, as noted—redefines the idea of God’s creation itself. In that light, God’s “forming” or “creating” Jacob/Israel, Zion/Jerusalem, his sons and daughters, and his endtime servant signifies their entering a new phase of ascent with its accompanying new commission. Just as the creation of the heavens and the earth began with primordial matter—“earth” and “waters” in a chaotic state, “without form and void” (Genesis 1:1–2)—so all people living on the earth, including God’s covenant people, are in a state of creation or de-creation. Distinct categories of celestial bodies—asteroids, moons, planets, and suns—similarly typify ascending levels (cf. Isaiah 40:26; 1 Corinthians 15:40–41). A plus side to humanity’s mortal condition, on the other hand, is that spiritual regeneration may proceed even as physical degeneration sets in (cf. Job 19:26–27; Isaiah 38:13–17; 2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

As additionally discussed earlier, ascent on a ladder to heaven nuances even the story of Adam and Eve’s creation as a re-creation, not a spontaneous materialization ex nihilo—out of nothing. Our first parents’ “creation” on this earth, in other words, constituted a milestone in their advancing through successive levels of ascent. That process began long before their appearance in this world and will continue long after many of their children have themselves inherited Paradise (Isaiah 11:6–9; 35:1–4; 51:3), by such means qualifying as new Adams and Eves. In that light, all of humanity is struggling on higher and lower levels of ascent or descent that endure through endless eons, stretching into a vast eternity. How else shall men become “gods . . . sons of the Most High [God]” (Psalm 82:6–7), or “gods ascending from the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13)? Didn’t Jesus assert that he had “ascended up to heaven” before he “came down from heaven” to accomplish his divine commission on the earth (John 3:13)?

In conclusion, the idea of the temple as “the center of the cosmos” holds true in a context of setting forth humanity’s potential to grow into the image and likeness of God, to become his sons and daughters in the fullest, covenantal sense of the terms. And, as Paul says, if “sons” of God, then also his “heirs” (Romans 8:13–19; Galatians 4:7) in eternal lives yet to be lived. To that end, God’s covenants with Israel’s ancestors, with Israel as a nation, with its priests and Levites, and with King David and his successors hold the key. The temple as the center of the cosmos reveals a divine pattern of what has been and what shall be. Isn’t that the purpose of a temple—a place of initiation into heavenly mysteries that get humanity on the path Israel’s God has paved, through which his children may grow into ever higher states of being? The question is, will instruction in the pure knowledge of God—of his creations and covenants—prove sufficient incentive for the Jewish people to rebuild their temple? Time will tell.

(Taken from Avraham Gileadi, Endtime Prophecy: A Judeo–Mormon Analysis, pp 45–79)

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