Tag Archives: Gathering of Israel

Hymn #42: Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning!

Note: Today’s essay is by Tyler Severson, who is a new contributor here at the Beesley Project. We’re pretty excited about having him on board, and we hope you will be, too.

Today’s hymn deals with the shift of darkness to light, the dawning of the “glad reign” of Zion. The light of this new day pushes back the shadows of sorrow and mourning, and the hymnist rejoices in this, praising the morning for doing nothing more than arriving.

Morning always shows up. It’s not a surprise to anyone. The morning in question here was, in fact, “long by the prophets of Israel foretold.” The information was there. Anyone who wanted to see the morning just had to wait long enough. It was going to come the whole time.

That’s why, I think, mornings make for a pretty easy analogy. One of the first things in the natural world that we notice and come to rely on is the fact that, without fail, it will get light in the morning. Some days are brighter than others, but the sun is there, and it will always show up when it should.

This is especially fertile ground for gospel metaphors. Morning, dawn, new beginnings. Think of the morning of the resurrection, or the day dawn breaking of the beautiful, bright Millennial day. Consider the morning breaking, the shadows fleeing before the dawning of the Restoration’s brighter day.

It’s easy, then, for us to take morning–the literal end of darkness–and extrapolate it into our lives. We associate our hard times, sadness, depression, anger, loneliness, and every other negative thing with darkness, and we hope that just like it does in the natural world, every dark night is guaranteed its ending with the breaking of the dawn.

Think of the last horrible period in your life. Think of the misery and pain, the suffering emotional, physical, spiritual, or a sordid combination of them all. It probably seemed endless. Think of our lives, the trials and daily hardships, and how easy it is to become discouraged, coming to the conclusion that the sun will never rise again.

Our Redeemer promised us that this would not ever be the case. “I will not leave you comfortless,” he assured us. But how are we to trust that, when we’re all so desperately familiar with sorrow, grief, pain, and darkness? Many times comfort simply does not exist and cannot be found. We’re sure of this, convinced. Christ then explains the source of the comfort: “I will come to you.”

We’re not promised that he’ll be hovering over us, waiting for a bad thing to happen so he can snatch us up. In fact, he never promises the absence of discomfort. He seems to be promising that it will happen, that we will all be comfortless at some point. His promise is not that nighttime will not come; it is that the dawn will always break. Our Savior is the sun to our blackest nighttimes. He promises comfort, warmth, and–taking the long term view–an end to darkness for all time. And he promises that we can count on him to bring it.

And what with it? What does the Rising of the Son have to offer us? Flowers of joy and righteousness from deserts of sorrow and sin. Places of waste–wasted time, wasted virtue, wasted opportunities–rising in verdure and mingling in the song of redeeming love. Most importantly, the return for bondage for millions of people lost in the darkness of sin. Christ’s light and warmth let us see just how lost we are and let us find our way back to the right path. It makes so much sense that his birth, the dawn of salvation, would be marked by a day and a night and a day with no darkness.

Hail to the brightness of Jesus’ morning; joy to the hearts that in darkness have lain. Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning. Jesus, our Savior, begins his glad reign.

Hymn #319: Ye Elders of Israel

It’s kind of a shame that this hymn was pigeonholed in the “Men” section of the hymnbook. It’s understandable, of course, given that it’s addressed to the “elders of Israel”, which could very easily mean “the men of the church”. But it’s such a marvelous missionary anthem, on par with “Called to Serve” I think, and much has changed since Cyrus Wheelock wrote it nearly 200 years ago.

There are now over 80,000 missionaries serving worldwide, with young women now making up about 25% of that number.¹ In order to better accommodate the growing number of sister missionaries, meet their needs, and take advantage of their unique perspective, the mission structure has changed to include a mission leadership council consisting of both Elders and Sisters.²

For the purposes of this post, and given the current demographic of missionaries in the field, I’m going to insert “and sisters” into the first line of this hymn like so:

Ye elders and sisters of Israel, come join now with me
And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be—
In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea—
And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.

Yes, it messes with the rhythm of things a bit, but I want to be clear that the exhortations in this hymn are not just for the boys.

Brother Wheelock served five missions of his own, including acting as a mission president of the Northern States Mission.³ Missionary work was undoubtedly a large part of his identity and a cause close to his heart. Not everyone feels a strong urge to spread the gospel message, though. I, for one, struggle to share my testimony and invite friends to church. Fortunately we’ve got Brother Wheelock to encourage us.

The harvest is great, and the lab’rers are few;
But if we’re united, we all things can do.
We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares
And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.

Sure, the harvest is overwhelmingly great, and the laborers are indeed few in comparison, but we aren’t asked to “seek out the righteous where’er they may be” by ourselves.

Members are invited to share the gospel with friends. Full-time missionaries teach and prepare these people for baptism. Ward mission leaders and ward missionaries provide support and help fellowship potential and new members. Ward leaders find callings for new members to help them feel welcome and needed. Home and visiting teachers check in with members at least monthly to ensure that their spiritual and temporal needs are being met. Helping one person become an active, participating, faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a massive group undertaking.

And so it is for all members, not just new ones. A united ward and stake should provide support for every member, new and old, young and not-so-young, single and married, parents and child-free. We ought to be united in helping one another learn about and use the Atonement so that none of us remains in bondage. We ought to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of being comforted” (Mosiah 18:9).

We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;
We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore
And point them to Zion and life evermore.

Once we join God’s kingdom, we are committed to strengthening it and helping it grow. Whether that means serving a full-time mission or providing service for those in need, our goal is to be “like our Captain of old”: our Savior, Jesus Christ.

O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;
We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.

Let us, like the Elders and Sisters serving in Israel, rise above the world around us and commit ourselves to a higher standard. Let us turn our hearts and minds to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Let us seek out the “mountains of Ephraim”–whether they be temples, church meetinghouses, or the homes of the righteous–and dwell therein.

Ye readers in Israel, come join now with me!

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Hymn #59: Come, O Thou King of Kings

Come, O thou King of Kings!
We’ve waited long for thee,
With healing in thy wings,
To set thy people free.
Come, thou desire of nations, come;
Let Israel now be gathered home.

We touched briefly on the subject of enduring to the end yesterday. It’s a substantial part of our doctrine. It’s not enough to have a moment of clarity and declare our conversion, only to return to our regular lives moments earlier. Our conversion has to be lasting, our actions sustained, and our faith deepened. But to what end are we to endure? How long is long enough?

This hymn gives us an idea. We ask the Lord to come again, as He has promised us. “We’ve waited long for thee,” we sing, and for those of us patiently enduring to the end, we truly have. We continue in the path, waiting for the return of He who is the author and finisher of our faith. It is in Him that our faith has an end when we see Him. We no longer need faith, having a full knowledge of Him. He will come and deliver His promised blessings to those who have waited for Him, coming with “healing in [His] wings.”

He also comes to “set [His] people free,” however you’d like to interpret that. He will certainly deliver His people from oppression as He comes to personally reign on the earth, yes, but I like to think of it as deliverance from sin. He has already given His life as a sacrifice for sin. He prepared a way for us to return to our Father when we fall from the path, and it’s in this sense that He is the author of our faith, having written the book (not literally, of course, although the scriptures are filled with His words) on how to follow that path. (The fact that the word “author” shares a common root with “authority” cannot be an accident.) As we follow that path, we are brought nearer to His presence, and when He comes again to earth, we can be drawn literally into His presence, as Israel is “gathered home.”

It’s a time to look forward to. The earth will be cleansed from sin, and our adversary will be bound for a season as we have the chance to live in love and peace. We will hear hosannas from “all the ransomed throng,” a group in which we might find ourselves if we’ve worked toward this day. He comes unto His own, and those are they who will find redemption. We make and keep covenants so that we can find ourselves worthy to stand with Him in that day. We soldier on, one day at a time so that we can “the wide expanse of heaven fill with anthems sweet from Zion’s hill.” We eagerly look to the day when He will rule as our Lord here among us, and we can “welcome in [His] peaceful reign.”

That day is still a ways off, though. It would be one thing if we knew the day He would come again. We would know how much time we had left. We could put off repentance, knowing that if the Lord wasn’t coming for six months, we could make amends in five months’ time. That’s not how it works, of course. No one knows when He will come again, and so we live in constant readiness, keeping ourselves worthy and prepared for that day when He comes again. We endure, remaining faithful to our covenants to to His commandments each day. And as we do, we look forward to that day when He comes again “with healing in [His] wings to set [His] people free.”

Hymn #6: Redeemer of Israel

Redeemer of Israel,
Our only delight,
On whom for a blessing we call,
Our shadow by day
And our pillar by night,
Our King, our Deliv’rer, our all!

The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is ever before us, showing us the way back to His presence and into eternal life. We see that throughout this hymn with its rich Old Testament imagery. We aren’t simply told that the Lord will watch over us. We are reminded of the cloud that remained over the children of Israel by day during their flight from Egypt, and of the pillar of fire that protected them by night from the soldiers. We don’t simply have to trust that He will be there to aid us in our times of trouble. We’ve seen it in the past, and we know that He is unchanging. Why should today be any different?

We know He is coming, as we sing in the second verse, to gather His sheep and bring them to Zion in love. We’ve seen this. We’ve seen the children of Israel, lost and wandering in the “valley of death” brought to the land that they were promised. We know He will do this because the Lord does not forget His own, and we know we can receive blessings we’ve been promised because we are all His own. We are His sheep, and He knows us by name. He has delivered us in the past, and we know that He is unchanging. Why should today be any different?

We, too, have wandered in the desert “as strangers in sin and cried… for [Him].” We know what it feels like to be separated from Him through our own misdeeds. We know that when we make mistakes, we cannot remain in His presence. We know this because we’ve seen it in the past. The children of Israel made some pretty big mistakes, and they were separated from their Lord as a result. He is unchanging, and we can expect no less. But we know that He will hear our cries, because he heard those of the Israelites. He answered their prayers, and He will answer ours. Our foes may rejoice when they see our sorrows, we sing, but Israel–and we–shall shortly be free. It was so in the past. Why should today be any different?

We know that we can and will be redeemed not only because the Lord is unchanging, but because we have been promised those blessings by that same unchanging Lord. We have been promised that He will come to His own, and we have been given the signs of His coming. He will not come in meekness, but in power and glory. And as we sing in the fourth verse, “good tidings for us. The tokens already appear.” We’ve seen the signs, and we will continue to see them as that day draws near. The Lord will come, and we will know Him when He does, because we know Him know. He is already our shadow by day and our pillar by night. He is our King, our Deliv’rer, our all. We know this, because it was so in the past, and because it is so now.

Why should today, tomorrow, or any other day be any different?

Hymn #54: Behold, the Mountain of the Lord

We are often reminded of Mormon’s admonition that we should seek Faith, Hope, and Charity. Faith and Charity are easily understood, but I’ve found that many people don’t have a solid understanding of what “Hope” means.

During my teenage years, I thought that maybe Hope referred to a stronger faith in the Gospel. If Faith is not to have a certain knowledge of things, then I thought perhaps Hope meant that not only did we believe it was true, but we really wanted it to be true. We “hoped” it was true. While it’s nice to hope that the gospel is true, this is not the Hope that the scriptures urge us to seek.

Hope is the feeling of anticipation we have for future promised blessings. Hope is the opposite of despair—it is the belief that things will be wonderful in the future, and the excitement we have for arriving at that future time. Mormon taught us to seek Hope because God has made lots of promises about the future, and some of these are conditional upon our obedience. As we gain greater understanding of the blessings to come, we will have greater strength to resist temptation and overcome difficult times.

God has promised us resurrection. He has promised us eternal life, if we will make and keep the covenants he has set out for us. He has promised guidance through the Spirit. He has promised forgiveness, and strength in overcoming our weaknesses. He has promised us peace in this life. The gospel is full of promises. This makes sense, of course; why would someone choose to follow the guidelines and restrictions imposed by a religion if there were not some promised benefit for doing so? Hope grows as we begin to understand how much God loves us, and how much he desires to bless us.

So what does all of this have to do with Behold, the Mountain of the Lord, today’s hymn?

This hymn describes the conditions that will exist during Christ’s Millennial Reign. While many people seem to be afraid of the calamity preceding the Second Coming, I’ve never felt that way. I figure that if it’s going to happen while I’m around, being afraid isn’t going to change anything. Instead, I choose to look forward with Hope at the prophesied conditions during the millennium. Here are just a few of them, mentioned in this hymn:

Behold, the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise (verse 1)

The rays that shine from Zion’s hill
Shall lighten ev’ry land (verse 2)

[Christ's] judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just
And quell the sinner’s pride. (verse 2)

No strife shall rage, nor hostile feuds
Disturb those peaceful years (verse 3)

They’ll hang the trumpet in the hall
And study war no more. (verse 3)

These promises give me hope—hope that the increasingly perilous conditions that exist now will not continue forever. Hope that if the destruction preceding the Second Coming does come in my lifetime, it is not the end. Hope that if it does not come in my lifetime, my descendants will someday see a time when these promises will be fulfilled. There is yet glory and peace and justice ahead, and there is reason to rejoice.

We really do believe the Christ will reign personally upon the earth. We really do believe that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory. We do not know when it will happen, but we know that “the world is being prepared for the Second Coming of the Savior in large measure because of the Lord’s work through His missionaries.” (Elder Neil L. Anderson, April 2011). Our work right now is in preparation for that exciting event, so how important for us to have Hope in that time. We are not preparing the world for destruction; we are preparing it for the peace and joy and beauty that follows.

The final verse is a fitting conclusion to this hymn. It repeats the same words twice, a reminder that gospel-oriented hope should inspire not daydreaming but action.

Come, then, O house of Jacob, come,
To worship at His shrine,
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.

Hymn #38: Come, All Ye Saints of Zion

Come, all ye Saints of Zion,
And let us praise the Lord;
His ransomed are returning,
According to his word.
In sacred song and gladness
They walk the narrow way
And thank the Lord who brought them
To see the latter day.

Given that it was written by none other than W. W. Phelps–printer of the Book of Commandments (the earliest edition of the Doctrine & Covenants) and author of 25 other LDS hymns–it’s not surprising that the topic of this hymn would be the gathering of Israel. It was an idea dear to the hearts of the early Saints. They clung to the hope that someday they would reach Zion, a beautiful place where they could worship God in safety, prosperity, and peace. Despite all the hardships they faced, people continued to join their ever-growing ranks. They sang happy songs, praising the Lord and thanking Him for restoring the gospel. They rejoiced to see the final dispensation ushered in during the latter days.

Come, ye dispersed of Judah,
Join in the theme and sing
With harmony unceasing
The praises of our King,
Whose arm is now extended,
On which the world may gaze,
To gather up the righteous
In these the latter days.

In 1841–only a few years after this hymn was written–Orson Hyde journeyed to Jerusalem to dedicate it for the return of the Jewish people. That return soon began in earnest, as Jews everywhere began to flock to the Middle East. The idea of observing Passover in the Holy Land became a reality for many throughout the world. With the establishment of the modern nation of Israel, there was no denying that the “dispersed of Judah” were being gathered again in the latter days.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Israel,
And let your joys abound!
The voice of God shall reach you
Wherever you are found
And call you back from bondage,
That you may sing his praise
In Zion and Jerusalem,
In these the latter days.

One of the scripture references for this hymn is Isaiah 52:7:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”

Usually this verse (and any other that talks about the feet of people on mountains) is taken to be a reference to temple ordinances performed by proxy for the dead. In that context, this verse could be referring to those who have died without knowledge of the gospel. As family names are found and taken to temples all over the world, the voice of God is reaching even those beyond the veil. The dead are given the opportunity to accept the saving ordinances performed on their behalf and be released from their spiritual bondage. They, too, can join in singing praises for the blessings made available in these latter days.

Then gather up for Zion,
Ye Saints thruout the land,
And clear the way before you,
As God shall give command.
Tho wicked men and devils
Exert their pow’r, ’tis vain,
Since He who is eternal
Has said you shall obtain.

The early saints congregating in Ohio and Illinois and eventually Utah, the Jewish people thronging to the Middle East, the countless souls in spirit prison waiting for saving ordinances–none of these gatherings have been without conflict and controversy.  Bringing so many people together is hard! And let’s not forget that the ever-elusive Zion is still not a specific physical location.

Yet still we come. We purify our hearts and covenant to follow Christ and create Zion in our stakes, wards, and homes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints now has over fifteen million members throughout the world and is growing rapidly. In spite of “wicked men and devils” God’s work will be accomplished.

So let’s continue to gather up! Share the gospel, go to the temple, and clear a space for our brothers and sisters to join us in Zion, wherever we may be.

Hymn #40: Arise, O Glorious Zion

Like most of the hymns about Zion, this one is bright, strong, and uptempo. We sing brightly, and we sing with conviction. We sing with power, and it’s because when we sing about Zion, we sing about the kingdom of God. Other hymns focus on the God’s attributes, like His kindness and mercy, but this is less about Him and more about the organization of His kingdom. We’re singing less about the Master and more about the walls of His city.

It’s not surprising, then, that the hymn has a distinctly military feel to it. There’s a strong quarter time beat driving the melody, which moves quickly with cascading eighth notes. The soprano and tenor parts go all the way up to E, which is pretty high for a hymn intended for a mass audience. Those high notes give the hymn a soaring feeling, which adds to the sense of disciplined precision that comes with the quick pace. The tune is even titled “Victory.”

Military imagery abounds in this hymn. We begin by describing the Lord as our “sure defender.” He protects us from sin and death through His atonement, but here, the image is not so much a gentle shepherd as an armor-clad warrior. He is strong, and He is capable of beating back the forces of evil. He is our captain in the war against sin, and His victory (and ours, if we ally ourselves with Him) is sure.

We take part in the war too, of course. The victory is His, and it was hard-fought, but we have our skirmishes to come through as well. The third verse details our role in the struggle:

Thru painful tribulation
We walk the narrow road
And battle with temptation
To gain the blest abode.
But patient, firm endurance,
With glory in our view,
The Spirit’s bright assurance
Will bring us conq’rors through.

The gospel message of enduring to the end is just as apparent as is the imagery of military discipline. We are soldiers, trained in the duty of the Lord. Like soldiers, we are to give total loyalty and obedience to Him. We walk a narrow road, following our orders with exactness, turning neither to the right nor to the left. We do battle with temptation, and we do so not only because we have been so commanded, but because we know there is a reward in store. And as we follow those commands with “patient, firm endurance,” we help to earn the victory over evil. We don’t simply survive the struggle, as is often our sense of enduring to the end. This hymn tells us that we will be conquerors. We will be victorious, and just as there is no question who is the conqueror and who is the conquered in the aftermath of a war, there will be no question which side has won the victory in the end.

In the fourth verse, we return to the familiar theme of singing praise to our King. We join with the “hosts of heaven,” singing glory to our Redeemer. Having already sung three verses with military fervor, it’s not hard to imagine those hosts of heaven lined up in neat rows, standing at attention. We unite our voices in perfect unison, singing as one the “immortal theme” of praise.

This is the goal, and the end of our faith and devotion. We aim to arrive here, capable of making our hearts and voices one with the saints. Zion is the pure in heart. We give our hearts fully to the Lord and without reservation. That’s not to say that there’s no room for individualism in Zion, and it’s not to say that we’ll act as a hive mind, but it does imply to me that we will have purified ourselves (or, rather, have been purified through the cleansing power of the atonement) to the point where we can act and love as the Savior does. John told us that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” We will see Him through His own redeeming love. When we can do that, we will be numbered among the pure in heart.

That’s the end goal, anyway. It’s still a long way off, and we have a lot of steps yet to cover in that journey. But this fourth verse reminds us of the end we’re striving for, and gives us a glimpse of the time when we can join with the hosts of heaven and sing glory to him “whose blood did us redeem.”

Hymn #25: Now We’ll Sing with One Accord

This is a hymn we don’t often hear in church. I don’t think I’ve ever sung it in sacrament meeting, although it turns out that I have at least heard it once. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang this hymn during the April 2009 General Conference. WordPress doesn’t allow us to embed the video here, sadly, but you can view it here. You should, or at the very least, listen to the hymn via the link we’ve provided at the top.

Notice anything unusual about the hymn? The rhyme scheme is unique among the hymns we’ve talked about so far this year. While most LDS hymns follow an ABAB scheme, this hymn uses AAABCCCD. The fourth and eighth line of each verse don’t rhyme with anything else in the verse, causing them to stand out from the rest of the lyrics. Perhaps even more interesting is that the fourth lines of the first, second, and third verses all rhyme with each other, and they in turn rhyme with the last line of the fourth verse. It’s an unorthodox technique that serves to tie the verses together, while drawing attention to the non-rhyming lines within each verse.

So why those lines in particular? How do they tie this hymn together? Well, first we’ll have to start with understanding what this hymn is all about. The first two lines tell us that “now we’ll sing with one accord/for a prophet of the Lord,” and those attentive enough to review the topics found at the bottom of each hymn will see that the prophet in question is Joseph Smith. (Even if you hadn’t, you could be forgiven for assuming the hymn was about Joseph Smith; “the prophet” virtually always refers to Joseph Smith within LDS psalmody.) We sing about his role as restorer (“brought the priesthood back again”) and as translator (“for the Gentile and the Jew/he translated sacredly”). We sing boldly, as we do with many of the hymns of the restoration. The claim of a modern-day prophet is a bold one, as are the claims of continuing revelation and restored authority from on high, and the tone of the hymn reflects that boldness.

So we’re singing about the restoration and Joseph Smith; what about those four lines in each verse that tie the hymn together? Let’s take a look at them and see. In verse one, the line that sticks out is “cheers the Saints as anciently.” We receive revelation and guidance from the Lord as did His faithful in years past. That’s cause for cheer. It’s easy to feel adrift in a sea of conflicting messages. The clarity of the gospel message helps us to keep our bearings straight, and it brings us joy.

In the second verse, the special line is “in its ancient purity,” referring to the restored authority of the priesthood. It was restored through Joseph, yes, but the authority is the same as it ever was. It is the authority of God given to man to direct His work as though He were here. It was given to men in ancient times, and it is given to us today. The line in the third verse dovetails with that theme nicely: “He translated sacredly.” Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, a book of scripture that shows us that God spoke to more than one group of people. He translated the book not because of his expertise in Meso-American languages, or because of his mastery of ancient scripture, but because he received authority from God to do so. It’s the same authority held by ancient prophets like Moses and Abraham, and it’s the same authority held by modern prophets like Thomas S. Monson today.

The hymn concludes with the line “purer for eternity,” referring to Zion. It will spread throughout the earth during the Millennium as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is the Christ. And again, it has little to do with our own efforts (though we do, and will, work toward building the kingdom) and instead much to do with the power of the Almighty. This is His work, and it will not fail. The gospel has been restored to Earth, never to be taken again.

We sing about Joseph Smith, but these lines that stick out in the middle of each verse remind us that when we sing about him, we sing about the power of God, restored through him. Joseph is no longer with us, gone nearly 170 years now, but the church thrives. We revere him, but we worship the God who made the restoration he accomplished possible. And so when we sing this hymn, we sing about a great man, but also about great men to come (“prudent in this world of woes/they will triumph o’er their foes”) as they are given inspiration, guidance, and authority from on high.