Orson Hyde’s Historic Journey—175th Anniversary
BYU Jerusalem Center
October 27, 2016
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Dear friends, in the midst of all this discussion about Orson Hyde’s prayer, the presence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Israel, and some history about this magnificent Brigham Young University Center, it strikes me that we may need just a little more context for all of this. Some one of you may be asking, “What prompted all of this Orson Hyde stuff anyway?” Let me try to say a word in that regard to provide a backdrop to all you are seeing and hearing.
You know better than I the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and posterity which did not, it turned out, preclude the scattering and dispersion of that posterity, sifted “like as corn is sifted in a sieve,” the prophet Amos described it, fulfilling what Moses had recorded in the Torah: “And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.”
But equally prophesied was that ancient Israel would be gathered. As the prophet Ezekiel wrote:
“Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
“And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel. …
“… So shall they be my people, and I will be their God.”
Note this prophecy in the Book of Mormon, our sacred record which is Semitic in its origin:
“And I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people; and I have covenanted with them that I would gather them together in mine own due time, that I would give unto them again the land of their fathers for their inheritance, which is the land of Jerusalem, which is the promised land unto them forever, saith the Father. …
“Then shall they break forth into joy—Sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Father hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.”
All of this—minus the Book of Mormon material—you know far better than I, but I mention it to provide historical context for something not as well known. That is that one of the foundational pieces of LDS theology is that we of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent a remnant of the tribe of Joseph, with our patriarchal lines going back principally to Ephraim and Manasseh, and that in such a covenantal relationship modern prophets have played a role in the gathering of the Jews to their homeland.
In 1820, a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith prayed to know what God would have him do and had a divine manifestation instructing him, among other things, that it was soon time for the scriptural promises given to ancient Israel to be fulfilled and that he, Joseph Smith Jr., would be instrumental in restoring the priesthood and powers that would bring to fruition those prophecies. Following the dedication of the first Latter-day Saint temple built in the tradition of but not with the luxury of the temple of Solomon, the young prophet Joseph Smith, by then 30 years of age, was visited by a series of Old Testament prophets who appeared and initiated the fulfillment of many of the promises we have been referring to today. One visitor was the prophet Elijah in fulfillment of the ancient promise recorded by Malachi:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
We know that it is a cherished Jewish tradition to leave an empty chair for Elijah at Passover. We feel we understand that tradition better than any non-Jewish group in the world because part of our history involves the return of Elijah and the filling of that empty chair. Furthermore, Elijah’s return is crucial to Latter-day Saint theology, giving meaning to the 152 temples we have built around the world with many more to come. In those temples “the heart[s] of the fathers [are turned] to the children, and the heart[s] of the children to their fathers.”
That leads me to another visitor received by the 30-year-old Joseph Smith on that same occasion: the prophet Moses. Of this manifestation the young prophet wrote: “The heavens were again opened unto us; and 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.”
That world-changing appearance of Moses—father of Israel’s first return to the promised homeland—initiated a latter-day return that would, according to the prophet Jeremiah, transcend in significance that earlier escape from Egypt. As Dr. Kearl has explained, Orson Hyde’s 1841 mission to Jerusalem to dedicate this land for the return of the Jews and for Jerusalem to be its capital city was an important moment in the latter-day Jewish return to their homeland—coming nearly 50 years before Theodor Herzl’s rise to prominence and 80 years before the Balfour Declaration.
This is too brief an account to do justice to such a magnificent story, but I hope it explains something of the brotherhood we feel for you, and our doctrinal devotion to the history, anguish, blessings, and future destiny of the tribes of Israel generally and the Jewish people specifically. Perhaps it is appropriate to close this inadequate summary with the words of the prophet Zechariah:
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.
“And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee.
“And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.”
We believe the work of modern Elder Orson Hyde has played a key role in God choosing Jerusalem again in the fulness of times. We pray for the preservation of the Jewish people and for their peaceful association with all who dwell in what is truly the Holy Land.