The word Israel appears 213 times in the Book of Mormon, almost always preceded by the word “of.” Here are the phrases in which it most commonly appears:
|house of Israel||122|
|Holy One of Israel||40|
|God of Israel||11|
|children of Israel||8|
|tribes of Israel||6|
What is the house of Israel?
Book of Mormon prophets use the term to mean two different things: (1) literal descendants of Israel (Jacob), and (2) recipients of the covenant God made with Israel.
On the title page of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni identifies three target audiences for the book:
- “the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel”
- the Jews
- the Gentiles (everyone else)
Early in the book, Nephi tells his brothers that their descendants will one day understand “that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord” (1 Nephi 15:14).
Nephi’s brother Jacob later assures his people that the words of Isaiah apply to them, “for ye are of the house of Israel” (2 Nephi 6:5).
600 years later, after the destruction which coincided with the death of the Savior, the grieving survivors hear the voice of the Savior. He addresses them repeatedly as “the house of Israel” (3 Nephi 10:4-7). He also reassures them that, because of their lineage, they are heirs to the covenant God made with their ancestors:
Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers (3 Nephi 20:25).
And Mormon’s final words are addressed to the descendants of the Lamanites, who have vanquished his people. “Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel,” he says. If you believe these words, “ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant” (Mormon 7:2, 10).
The Lord repeatedly reassured the descendants of Lehi that they were part of the posterity of Israel, and that they were therefore rightful heirs of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel).
Recipients of the covenant
But the Book of Mormon is also written to the Gentiles, and it has an important message for them as well: If they choose to repent and accept the gospel, they will receive the same blessings promised to the literal descendants of Israel. Early in the book, an angel assures Nephi that, if the Gentiles will follow the Savior,
they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel (1 Nephi 14:2).
Nephi later reiterates this promise:
As many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel (2 Nephi 30:2).
So receptiveness, not lineage, is the ultimate determinant of inclusion in the house of Israel.
The Savior underscored this point during His visit to the American continent. Why will the Gentiles bring the gospel to the house of Israel in the last days? So that they can repent, come unto Christ, and “be numbered among my people, O house of Israel” (3 Nephi 21:6).
And at the end of the account of the Savior’s visit, Mormon concludes with an appeal to the Gentiles:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent…that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel (3 Nephi 30:2).
Why would God emphasize the direct lineage of the Nephites and the Lamanites, while also assuring the Gentiles that they can be heirs to the same blessings? I think the answer is simple: God loves all of His children, and He will do what He can to convince them to receive His blessings. If a reminder of their ancestry inspires them to live up to their heritage, He will remind them. If a message of inclusion prompts them to accept His invitation, then He will assure them that lineage is no obstacle. Either way, His message is the same: Come to me and receive the gifts that only I can give.
Today, I will be grateful for God’s loving invitations. I will be grateful for parents and ancestors who made covenants with God and laid the groundwork for me to also develop a deeper relationship with God. I will also be grateful that my relationship with Him is dependent only on my willingness to receive His gifts.