26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.
(2 Nephi 15:26, Isaiah 5:26)
12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
(2 Nephi 21:12, Isaiah 11:12)
ensign – A flag or standard, especially a military or naval one indicating nationality (Oxford English Dictionary).
In the book of Numbers, the Lord commands Moses and Aaron to gather the children of Israel around the tabernacle by tribes: “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch” (Numbers 2:2). Like a tour guide carrying a flag to keep their group together, each tribe had a standard so that they would know where to gather.
In the two passages above, Isaiah prophesies that, in the last days, God would “lift up an ensign to the nations.” Just as the ensigns in ancient Israel indicated to the people where to stand in order to be with their tribe, this latter-day ensign would bring together the house of Israel “from the four corners of the earth.”
On July 26, 1847, two days after the arrival of the first group of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, their leader, Brigham Young, led a group of associates up a nearby hill. Believing that their safe arrival in this location was a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, they tied an old yellow bandana to a walking stick and planted it in the ground, naming the hill Ensign Peak.
Today and tomorrow, many of us will participate in the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though my family and I won’t be able to attend in person in Salt Lake City, we will be there in spirit as we watch the proceedings of the conference broadcast live.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that general conference represents a continuation of the vision expressed by Brigham Young and his colleagues on Ensign Peak. Speaking in general conference a few years ago, he said:
I testify that the proceedings of the past two days are yet one more evidence that, as our hymn says, “Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled”—and surely the dual meaning of the word standard is intentional. It is not happenstance that one English publication of our general conference messages is in a magazine simply titled the Ensign.
As our conference comes to a close, I ask you to reflect in the days ahead not only on the messages you have heard but also on the unique phenomenon that general conference itself is—what we as Latter-day Saints believe such conferences to be and what we invite the world to hear and observe about them. We testify to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people that God not only lives but also that He speaks, that for our time and in our day the counsel you have heard is, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, “the will of the Lord, … the word of the Lord, … the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
(“An Ensign to the Nations,” General Conference, April 2011).
Today and tomorrow, as I participate in general conference, I will remember Isaiah’s image of an ensign, signaling to the world that His voice can be heard, that He has not forgotten His children, but that He speaks to us today just has He did anciently. I will participate in conference intentionally, with the confidence that God will speak to me personally through His prophets and that I will receive messages which will bring me closer to Him and which will enable me to more fully align my life with His will.