During my time at BYU’s Jerusalem Center, my group spent one week in Egypt. I was excited to see the pyramids, ride a camel, visit the bazaars and enjoy a new part of the world, but I hadn’t given much thought to the spiritual significance of Egypt.
Until we arrived and our ancient near east professor said, “Welcome home!”
This is an odd way to welcome someone to a place they’ve never been before, but his explanation changed my perspective of our whole week and my whole study of the Bible, especially the writings of Isaiah.
“This is your ancestral homeland. Your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Abraham visited here with Sarah (at which time the pyramids were already 800 years old!). His great grandson Joseph was sold into captivity here and became an important aid to the Pharaoh. Joseph’s brothers were saved from famine here. The whole House of Israel lived here for 400 years before Moses led them to freedom. So, welcome home.”
Ye Are of the House of Israel
I have always loved and admired the patriarchs and prophets, but I had never really considered them family.
In studying the work of several Jewish scholars, I’ve learned that when Jews read the Torah they read it as a family history. It is not merely a record of God’s dealings with His ancient people; it is a record of God’s dealings with their people. It is their story, their covenants, their God.
As Jacob prepares to read the teachings of Isaiah to the Nephite people he tells them, “They may be likened unto you for YE ARE OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.”
These words are equally true for each of us. By birth or adoption, every member of the Church is fully a member of the House of Israel. YOU are of the House, or family, of Israel.
What Does That Mean to You?
A knowledge of where you came from changes a great deal about who you are and who you want to be. That is why a name is so important, why taking the name of Jesus Christ is so significant. Do you also identify with the name of Israel? Do you consider yourself a member of the family of Israel?
In studying family history, I often find characteristics or interests I share with my ancestors. A great-grandfather who was a gifted mathematician. A great-grandmother who loved to whistle and write poetry. A grandfather who was a teacher. Countless ancestors who lived and loved the gospel.
I believe these things are not merely coincidence. Whether by nurture or nature, traits carry through family lines.
Now when I read the scriptures—accounts of MY family—I try to find common traits and emulate the characteristics of Israel. I read it as my story, my promises, my God.
When I read the teachings of Isaiah—directed to God’s covenant people, Israel—I read it as teachings for me.
How Will You Live as a Part of the Family of Israel?
I love to ask myself questions and journal as I read the scriptures. In one particularly meaningful activity, I asked the following questions:
Do I know that I am of the House of Israel? Do I have that sense and trust in those promises as deeply as the Jews do? Do I claim that identity? What would my life look like if I did?
I thought of all the things I learned from the faithful Jewish people and examples from the scriptures, and I came up with the following list. I would…
- contemplate temple covenants more
- have greater sense of ritual when putting on religious clothing
- communicate with God more throughout the day
- know the scriptures better
- be more focused on my duty to family
- observe the Sabbath day more diligently
- rely on scripture stories to guide me and bring me strength
- live with total faith and without worldly cares
- live my religion completely without concern of what others think
I then continued with the following questions: What does it mean to be God’s covenant people? What are His promises?
And finally: How would I think, feel, and act if I knew I was God’s covenant daughter?
Pondering these questions has changed the way that I fit into the scriptures and God’s story of His people, my people. It has changed the way I see God’s promises.