The Gathering of Israel for Beginners

Interview with Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

Cali Black: 

Hello, everyone. We are so excited today to welcome you  to our guest episode. I am here with Kristen Walker Smith. Kristen, are you excited for today? 


Kristen Walker Smith:

I’m so excited. I told you earlier, I’m ready to have my mind blown today. I am SO excited. 


Cali Black:

Well, perfect. We are going to get started. We have our special guest, which is Dr. Kerry Muhlestein, and he is a professor at BYU and we are beyond honored to have him on our podcast because he kind of knows a lot about a lot of things. He’s written books, he teaches at BYU, which of course I attended (the best university in the world. Not that I’m biased).  But we’re really excited today to tackle a topic that we know so many of you are curious about because we get questions on it all the time and that is the House of Israel and the promises that are given to covenant Israel. We know President Nelson has asked us to study that recently. So we’re going to talk to Dr. Muhlestein today about some ideas on this, but first I just want to welcome you, Dr. Muhlestein. Thank you so much for being here. Would you mind introducing yourself a bit for those who may not know you? 


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Thanks for having me. And I’m just excited to be with you both. This is a great opportunity, so thank you. And yeah, I’d be happy to introduce myself. Like you said, I teach at BYU, I have degrees in Hebrew, Bible, and Egyptology and I just have a fascination and a love for the ancient world, but I just can’t get enough. I get drawn into it. I can’t stop. I direct an excavation in Egypt, so I’m there, well, not lately because of COVID, but before then I was there at least annually and often more than that, I’ve taught a couple of times in the Jerusalem Center and studied there in Jerusalem. And so I’m just drawn to the ancient world and ancient texts, especially in symbols, they captivate me and I can’t get enough of it.


Kristen Walker Smith:

That is absolutely wonderful. I mean, I cannot wait to hear what you have to say on this because you are someone that actually knows what’s going on. Like I can read about the subject, but you’re living it. I’m so excited. So the first thing that we want to find out from you is President Nelson has really been emphasizing the House of Israel and the gathering of Israel. And I feel like as soon as you say the word Israel, people’s spiritual eyelids go down and they start falling asleep because it’s not something that we know very well. And I feel like you do.  President Nelson has even encouraged us to make lists of the promises for covenant Israel, which we’re part of. So why do you think it’s important enough that the prophet is telling us to study this subject if it’s not something that everyone is naturally interested in? What’s the importance? 


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Well, that’s, that’s a great question. And, I have to tell you that President Nelson is part of the reason I got interested in this. He’s been talking about this for a long time. And, uh, I remember as an undergraduate at BYU going to a talk he gave about the promises to the house of Israel. And, uh, I guess I was a little interested before that because as I’d studied the Book of Mormon and I just have this kind of mind that likes to take themes and not only look at them literarily, but quantify them. And I kind of am counting, “How much is this theme mentioned, and that theme?”, and I figured that after the topic of Christ and the atonement, the Book of Mormon talks about the promises of the House of Israel, more than any other thing, it’s the, I think the second, most common theme in the book of Mormon.

So that interested me, but, but I think you’re right, most of the time we kind of skip over those aspects in the Book of Mormon even though it’s in the title page.  It’s in the last couple verses, it’s in the last thing that Mormon says, it’s what Christ talks about more than anything else when he’s with the Nephites, we still kind of skip over it. But when President Nelson, when at that point he was Elder Nelson, gave this talk, it really kind of caught my interest and that’s when I started to really want to get more. And I was just starting to get into ancient studies at the time. That’s when I thought “I really want to get more into those ancient topics.” And especially that of the Abrahamic Covenant and the promises of the House of Israel. But what I’ve noticed is that over time, it seems to me that the frequency that he mentions it has really intensified.


And that has especially happened since he’s become the president of the Church. I mean, he talks about it frequently and to be honest, like I thought I’d kept a pretty good list of all of his conference talks and BYU addresses and how much he talked about it. And then when he, in this general conference talk he had mentioned hundreds of times.  Like I had listed about 35 talks and I thought that’s pretty good. And then he mentioned he’d talked about it hundreds of times. So I’m guessing that’s in like regional conferences that we don’t do anymore, but you know, all these different kinds of things that we didn’t have access to, but it tells me he’s been talking about this a lot, but even so once he became president, I mean, it’s the first, the first thing he did is that Face to Face and it was the highlight of that. It’s the highlight of his first talk to the Relief Society. It’s just everywhere. When he talks about it at Roots Tech, he’s talking about it everywhere. He goes, he hits on this theme. Again, I haven’t tried to quantify it, but I would guess since he’s become president of the church, he’s talked about that theme more than any other theme. And so I can’t read his or the Lord’s mind as to why maybe but I really have the feeling that he’s been impressed that this is what we need. And the “why” he’s told us is because, and he said this several times . . .

. . . this is the most important thing happening in the world today.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

And I think when a prophet tells us, this is the most important thing, and he says it several times, we probably ought to pay attention.  I think that might be a good idea. 


Cali Black:

And I remember that Face to Face when he talked about the gathering of Israel, and I feel like something clicked, right. I realized like, wait, this isn’t some obscure abstract topic that like, you know, someone just does a deep dive into, it’s something that I can understand. It just means bringing people closer to Christ and kind of going through that. So I’m curious for, for many of us who feel this way, like they’re still feeling a little overwhelmed, even though we know the prophet has asked us, do you have any advice on where we can start? Like how we can feel more confident when it comes to tackling this subject that we probably have not been exposed to very much just in normal church meetings.


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Yeah. I have probably like five hours worth of advice. So we’ll, we’ll try and boil it down to just a couple minutes. But, um, I would say a couple of things, one thing is that we need to recognize that the gathering of Israel and the blessings promised to Israel are part of the Abrahamic Covenant or the new and everlasting covenant.

And this is where I find, well, let’s just say in general members of the Church feel like, “Okay, new and everlasting covenant, or Abrahamic covenant, those are important things and I kind of get what they are, but mostly not. So let’s move on.” And I’ve been in lots of experiences, I mean, I teach the Old Testament and I teach Pearl of Great Price they come up in those and I give lectures all the time. I’ve been in lots of, settings where I just have that experience with people,

“Okay. I know that’s important, but I don’t get it. So another topic.” 

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

Right?  Next. And in fact, what I found is that most people don’t realize that the new and everlasting covenant, the Abrahamic covenant are really the same thing, that there are two different names for the same thing. We think marriage is the new and everlasting covenant, but we have had several church leaders who’ve made it clear that is a new and everlasting covenant.  Baptism is a new and everlasting covenant, but they’re all part of the new and everlasting covenant, which we enter into a baptism– both President Nelson, Brigham Young, and others have made that very clear– we enter into baptism and then we enter into it more fully in the temple, more fully in the temple marriage and so on and so on.


But that’s the new and everlasting covenant made even before the world was between Joseph Smith tells us this, between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost initially; that God will save us and that the Son and the Holy Ghost will do their roles in making it possible for Him to save us.  And then established with Adam and then every now and then it has to be re-established, which is how it gets that name “new,” right?

So it’s everlasting because it’s been around before the creation of the world and we’ll be around after it, but it’s new because it keeps getting re-established.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

But one of the times it’s re-established is with Abraham. When it’s reestablished with Abraham, there’s a significant thing that happens. And that is Abraham is promised that anyone who is ever going to become part of this covenant from then on out will become part of his seed. And you get that just a little bit more funneled with Jacob where they’ll be part of the house of Israel, right? So from that time forward, Abraham’s descendants primarily through Jacob will be the stewards of the covenant. That doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive or anything and we can talk about that in a minute if we want, but the covenant will be funneled through that family. And that’s why the most frequent way we refer to it as the Abraham covenant, which is immensely important in scriptures, but we often miss it.

We don’t really recognize it. So I’d say that’s the first step is to recognize that those are the covenants, everything else, every covenant and ordinance you enter into is a step or an element of that covenant. But that’s the overarching covenant, which is God’s promise to save us. 

So once we realize that, then we need to start to recognize how it’s referred to in the scriptures. And this is what I find, especially for this challenge that President Nelson just gave us where he said between last conference and next conference study the lessons promised to Israel and the gathering of the House of Israel . . .  that’s where it gets tricky for people, right? 


There are a few places, especially in the Book of Mormon where that’s explicit, right?  Like I said, Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, Jacob and Christ talk about it pretty explicitly, but even then sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. And, and we miss things about this. So maybe I’ll digress just a little bit, because this is also part of the tools that will help us study this. And 1 Nephi 19:23, probably everyone listening has heard that verse where Nephi says that they likened the scriptures unto themselves. Right. And we typically hear that and we say, “Oh yeah. So that means that whatever is happening in other people, I kind of put myself in that situation and then it applies to me in some way.”  Which is true. That’s a fantastic secondary interpretation of that verse or application of it.

But if you read the context carefully, what Nephi’s talking about before it, and especially the verse he says, right after it in verse 24, what he is saying to Laman and Lemuel is this, the scriptures are about the Abrahamic covenant, or the House of Israel. You are of the House of Israel, therefore– and take the time to read verse 24 there– therefore what Isaiah and other prophets say, because they are speaking about the House of Israel and the covenant with Israel, they are about you. And so you can liken them to yourselves. And that is as true for us as it is for Laman and Lemuel. And hopefully we do a better job of it than they do. But the point is that really from Genesis 12 on the scriptures are about the Abrahamic covenant and the House of Israel, all scriptures are, and they presuppose tha, you know that and understand it.  And so if you don’t get it, then you’re going to miss a lot of things.  

But what’s more, they really are about how God works with the covenant people. And as covenant people, when we recognize that then that’s what they’re teaching us– how God deals with us in the same way he’s dealt with our covenant ancestors. Then the scripture is applied to us in a new and powerful way. And they’re much more personal and much more applicable. Then they become family history, right? As much as when you read about Grandma Joanne or whoever, and you read her story and it’s wonderful. And it tells you something of who you are, and it gives you power. When you’re reading about Grandma Sarah and Grandma Rachel you should get something from that. That’s your family history and it’s equally applicable to you.


And in some ways, even more so, because these are the ones that God preserved for all of us to learn something from. So I’d say first, we have to understand what the covenants are. As we said, that you know that this is the covenant we’re all in. Then we have to recognize how applicable they are to us. And then we have to start to recognize covenant phrases. Because most of the time the scriptures talk about the covenant they don’t have a great big highlighted in red sign that says covenant. They just assume you know the covenant well enough that when they refer to it, you say, “Oh, they’re talking about the old covenant. Okay, I’ve got that here.” So I’ll just give you a couple of examples and then if we want to talk about some of those a little bit more, they’ll lead us into what I think is the heart of the covenant.

But for example,

. . . the heart of the covenant is the promise that God says, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” That’s the very core of the covenant.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

And we can talk about that later, but I’ll just tell you now that those phrases are used frequently in scripture. And if you don’t realize that that’s God and the prophets’ way of saying, “I’m talking about the covenant,” you just pass over them, but it’s everywhere in the scriptures.

So that when God says “my people” automatically as soon as you recognize that you should be saying “Oh, He’s talking about covenant and He’s about to talk about blessings promised or what He will do for covenant people, because He said my people.”  Or when He says, “Then I will be your God,” or,  “I am your God,” and you say, “Oh, he’s talking about the blessings from this covenant relationship that we have with each other.” 

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

So phrases like that, or anytime He talks about prosperity or numerous posterity or protection or a guidance, or promised lands, those are all elements of the Abrahamic covenant. So once you recognize that, you’ll start to realize that He’s talking about the covenant and our covenant. So maybe I’ll just give you, and then I really will pause for a second, but maybe I’ll just give you two examples of scriptures you’re probably familiar with that you may not have recognized as being part of the Abrahamic covenant. 


One of those is in the 10 commandments. You’re probably familiar with the commandment to honor your father and your mother that thy days may be long in the land, which the Lord thy God has given thee. As soon as you read “land which God gave you,” you know, you’re talking about the Abrahamic covenant, and it’s a shorthand phrase for saying “honor your parents, so that I can give you all the blessings of the covenant,” right?

That commandment really has a covenant connotation attached to it. But we don’t recognize that if we don’t stop and think, “Oh, promise land He gave us, that’s a covenant phrase,” right? Or here’s another one that we quote all the time in the church that is powerful for us, but can be more powerful. Malachi says that Elijah will come to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children. Well, if in Malakai’s audience, this Jewish group, when they hear “fathers,” they think Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, right. That’s who he’s referring to. So he is going to hear what his audience will hear– he’s talking about that Elijah will come to help us remember the covenant right now. Here’s a really interesting thing. His audience would understand that. So what, when Christ quotes that in the book of Mormon, so what his audience, their understanding, right?


They’re all very covenant tuned to him. So Malachi says it that way, Christ quotes Malachi the exact same way, they all get covenant reference. By the time you get to Joseph Smith’s day, people aren’t getting Abrahamic covenant references so well anymore. So when Moroni quotes that he changes it just a little bit, and he says, “Elijah will turn your hearts to the promises made to the fathers,” so that we can’t miss– but we still do– but so you can’t miss that what he’s talking about is if it’s promises made to the father, that’s gotta be the Abrahamic covenant right there. There’s no other option there. So we usually think of this as about family history and it is, but not in the smaller version we think of it. It’s about the covenant God has made with all of mankind and that he wants us to be tuned into that covenant.

And part of doing that is getting our families to be part of that covenant, but also getting our ancestors to be part of that covenant and sealed to them so that we all become sealed together, part of this covenant all the way back to Abraham who tells us in Abraham chapter 1, that his covenant is going all the way back to Adam. So as soon as you recognize that you recognize, and this is what President Nelson has been talking about, that when you tune into the vast majestic sweeping story of the Abrahamic covenant, you realize every little thing you’re doing in family history or missionary work is part of that covenant. When you go to the temple and do work for someone, you’re helping them be part of the Abrahamic covenant, which is the gathering of Israel, you’re helping to gather Israel.

When you get someone to go to the temple and gets sealed, when you get someone to join the church and enter into baptism, you’re getting them to enter into the Abrahamic covenant, which is gathering Israel. And so that’s, I think what President Nelson is trying to get us to tune to, which is what Malachi and Christ and Elijah and Moroni were trying to get us to tune into as well. Right? And President Nelson is another in this great line of prophets that is getting us to turn our hearts to the fathers. So those are just a couple of examples of how we can start to find those promises in the scripture once we tune into those things.


Cali Black:

I love that because I feel like, kind of the example you said, I’m trying to take President Nelson’s challenge and so I’m looking for, “Where does it say these are promises to the house of Israel?” Like those references are few and far between but that’s just beautiful. Like there are those phrases we can learn that are clearly referring to these covenant people that can clue us in like, “okay, wait, this is what we’re talking about.” And also in general the whole scriptures are about it. We don’t have to be so picky and choosy instead it’s, “Hey, this is why I’m giving you these records is to learn about this beautiful covenant that I’ve made with all of your forefathers and here, keep it going.” I love that.


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Yeah. Yeah. I agree.


Kristen Walker Smith:

I was taking notes and looking at my scriptures and I think that I work on a lower level. My brain works on a lower level, so I need to, if we could just back up and restate what you said because I think it’s so powerful, but I want to make sure that anyone who’s working at my level can understand it. So I think what you were saying, and I want you to correct me if I’m wrong, is that. . .

. . . the Abrahamic covenant is really just God’s covenant that He made in the premortal existence, that He was going to be our God and He was going to help us get back to Him. And that has been the covenant He’s made dispensation after dispensation.

– Kristen Walker Smith

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

That is really well said. That’s really well said. That’s the essence of the covenant. And then it has lots of little subsets each time it’s given, it’s given in a similar way, but with different things tailored to the group and the individual as it’s new again, it’s reestablishing. And you know after we get to Abraham and Jacob, then a key component of that is that He will gather Israel and we can talk about why He would do that in a minute if you want. But the essence of it is this is God’s promise that He will bring us back home. So you nailed it.


Kristen Walker Smith:

Oh, good. I’m so glad I was feeling like I wasn’t nailing it. So then from there, if we’re part of covenant Israel, that just means that we’re part of God’s true church that has access to the covenants that make it possible to return to Him. And that then the gathering Israel is trying to help people to come to the church where they can make covenants that will bring them back to God and help us keep our part of the covenant.


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Very good. I would reverse the order just a little bit. Maybe not everyone will agree with me honestly, but I would reverse it this way. . . so you said that we’re gathering Israel, which is just joining the church. I would put it this way. The first step is to get people to make a covenant. So they join the church but the point of joining the church is to become part of the House of Israel and I would put it in this way. God is going to save families only. So the unit that He works with and He saves families, and that’s why He asked a family to do this work. It’s not exclusive. Everyone not only can be part of the House of Israel. We beg, plead and do everything we can to get people to be part of the House of Israel in this life or the next.

We want you dead or alive. 

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

We’re doing everything we can to get everyone to join the House of Israel. But that’s the family that He asked to do the work, and that’s the family that He’s going to save. So everyone’s welcome. But you have to make the choice to be part of that family. So the Church is an organization and this is something that, so President Nelson’s initiatives may seem separate, but they’re really all part of the same thing. This focus on we’re home centered church supported is the same thing as saying we’re Israel centered and all the rest of us are trying to get people to join the house of Israel. So it starts with your little family and it gets to a bigger family, bigger until finally you get to the House of Israel and that’s where we’re trying to get everyone to be. So I would just have changed it that way a little bit.


Kristen Walker Smith:

Okay. I told you, I expected to have my mind blown and it’s happened. I just want you to know my mind is blown.  As you’re talking about families, that brings up a question for me about finding out in your patriarchal blessing that you are part of the family of Israel, and it tells you your specific lineage within the House of Israel. And I remember getting my patriarchal blessing and that was the most boring part. I’ve got to be honest, the rest of it, I’m like, “Tell me who my husband will be!” You know everything else was super exciting. And then I hear that and I’m like, “Oh, okay.”  Not exciting. So why is that actually an exciting part? Why does our lineage within the House of Israel even matter?


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Great, great question. And I think your reaction is what most people have. Although President Nelson has talked about this a little bit and if we understood better– and we typically don’t when we’re like 14 or whatever and getting our patriarchal blessing– if we understood better instead, that should be maybe the most exciting part.  Because what it does is it takes you and the rest of your patriarchal blessing– which is your individual life and how it will affect some other people– and it fits you into the grandest story in the history of the earth.  And what President Nelson talks about, he says that the Abrahamic covenant is of transcendent significance; it puts you in that story. So it takes your individual part of the tapestry, your individual little corner, and it puts it into this beautiful tapestry and allows you then to do exactly what He’s asking us to do: to take your blessings and fit them into these big blessings– this huge story and all of these blessings, all throughout the scripture, so that you know how you fit in. 

This is God telling you personally where you fit into the covenant, and that’s a big deal.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

I think that means something to us. Now, we also have these things, you know, the different tribes have different blessings, and that can be a little bit tricky to figure out, especially because most of the blessings are really kind of obscure and hard to understand. Recently as I was writing a book about the Abrahamic covenant, I recently tried to go through all the places where it talked about each blessing for each tribe and make some sense of that. And I think that can be helpful, but what we have to remember is that it will play out for each person individually, but it’s worthwhile to try and understand. So I want to be clear that in that book, I’m not trying to tell everyone what their life is going to be like, but I am trying to say, these are the historical blessings for those tribes. And then you can try and take what’s going on in your life and see how it attaches there, but then attach it back to Jacob and then to Abraham and then to Adam. Right. So it fits you in a wonderful way.


Cali Black:

So what blessings do you see as we study the Abrahamic covenant, the new and everlasting covenant, as we’re learning about the House of Israel, what blessings do you see, coming to your life specifically, or just members to members of the Church in general? Why do you feel that this is an important thing to study?


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

We really don’t have time to go through all of that. So maybe let me just spend a moment on the biggest, most important one.

So I had an interesting experience– I’ve been teaching for about 27 years now at BYU, for a while at BYU-Hawaii, in different places, I did Institute for a little while– but mostly BYU.  I taught Old Testament courses and Pearl of Great Price courses. And so we go through the Abrahamic covenant in there, and I’ve done lectures really all over the world on this. And I typically would go through a bullet point early on, I think back in 1994, when I first taught Old Testament, I tried to go all through all the scriptures and find all the places where I could say here’s the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant and make a list of them. And then I just put that up on PowerPoints in bullet point fashion. And that served well in the classroom; bullet points were great.


But when I wrote this book that I was talking about, I’ll just say that for the last six years I’ve felt the need to really intensively study the Abraham covenant; now I’ve casually studied it for a long time, but really, really intensively studied it for the last six years. And so I’ve had several articles come out on it in the last couple of years, a couple more about to come out, but I felt like I needed to try and put all of it together. So I wrote a book about it which I just feel blessed in the timing that I just submitted this book when President Nelson asked us to do that. And this book is about how to recognize the blessings of Abrahamic covenant in your life and what the gathering of Israel is about.  It’s called “God Will Prevail.”  It’s coming out in mid-February and the whole point behind it, Covenant Book really rushed it because they felt like this will help people better be able to understand the Abrahamic covenant. So everything we’ve talked about here is in much greater detail there. But when I wrote this book, I thought, “Well, bullet point’s not fantastic for a book. So I want to write about it, not just give them a bullet point. I want to say something about each of these.”  So that forced me to say, “Okay, well, how do I group these things together?” And as I tried to figure out, “okay, these ones seem to go together,” suddenly it made sense to me in a way that I wish I’d done twenty-five years ago.

I understand the covenant so much better just in the last six to eight months, I guess it was about a year ago that I was actually putting these groupings together that I understand them so much better as a result of this. I also came to realize what the key element of the covenant is. And it is encapsulated in what we already said in this phrase, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” But we often say, so what does that mean? Well, this is what it means.

God wants to have a deeper relationship with you.

– Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

. . . which in the end, the point of the whole plan of salvation until we can become more like Him, we can’t have the full kind of relationship he would like to have with us.

Like we are just too distant, too unlike him to have the capacity to have that relationship. The point of the covenant is to deepen our relationship with Him. And when you make that covenant with Him, it changes your nature.  So think about it: you enter into the covenant of baptism, that’s when you’re cleansed and also you received the Holy Ghost, you’re sanctified, you become holy. You become a different person. 

And that’s exactly the description that God gives to covenant Israel. You will be a peculiar people, meaning different than everyone else, a nation of priests and priestesses, a Holy nation.  All of those, every single one of those, what they mean is “different”, “no longer worldly, but “more godly.” That’s the root meaning of holy or sacred means “different or set apart from the normal, the profane, the mundane.”  

You’re no longer normal. You are different. 

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

In fact, you are more like God and being more like God you can have a different relationship with Him. You can be closer to Him. And this is part of why, for example, in my opinion, when Christ is on the earth, He says, “I’m not sent to the Gentiles. I’m just sent to the house of Israel.” Because we’re so cut off from God’s presence that God doesn’t interact with us directly. He interacts with us through his mediator, which is His Son, but for the most part, His son doesn’t interact with all mankind directly. He interacts with those who have entered into a relationship with Him and the Father and have their nature changed enough that He interacts with them. And then He sends them to go get everyone else to make that same covenant so that they can interact with Him so that He can bring them to the Father.

So we have these degrees of holiness, which is represented in the temple, in the tabernacle and all sorts of other place.  Degrees of holiness that allow us to come closer and closer to the Son and then the Father so that we can interact with Them. So what He’s trying to do with the covenant that will change you so that you can have a closer relationship with Him. And when you do have that closer relationship, you’ll have access to greater power. So for example, the Holy Ghost, right? Parts of the promises of the covenant are that God will guide you and protect you.  Well a lot of that happens through the Holy Ghost, but it happens through a whole bunch of other ways, but probably the biggest difference– and this is one that’s not easily detectable– is you have access to something that is a Hebrew word that is difficult to translate.


So most often in the scriptures is, well, there’s no good English equivalent for it. The word that’s used most often is “loving kindness,” but sometimes it’s just “mercy.”  And I think– I haven’t double checked this– but I think every time you read “loving kindness,” it’s “chesed”– but sometimes there are other words that are used for it–

. . . “chesed” literally means “covenantal love and mercy,” a mercy and a love available only to those who are in the covenant. Well, let me put it this way. It means “everlasting, unbreakable, covenantal, love and mercy”. So that’s a kind of love and mercy available only to those who are in a covenant with God that are not available to anyone else. And what it means is He will never, ever stop working with you and never give up on you.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

So first of all, when we hear about a special kind of love with God, well wait, does He love everyone? Yes, He does. So maybe, and I talk about this in the book a little bit more than we can do here, but an example I used there is like my wife. I think she loves everybody, but I hope she loves me differently than she loves everybody else. Because we’re in a covenant together. And that has created a bond between us, which also created a common cause, common goals, common experiences, and all of that has just created a different kind of love. As much as we would like to love everyone else that way it’s impossible without that kind of a connection; that just can’t happen. And it’s the same thing with God; when we are in that covenant relationship with Him, which changes our nature, we agreed to do His work and His will it creates a different level of love and mercy and willingness for Him to forgive and work with us again and again and again.

Another way you’ll read it is when it talks about His everlasting mercies, that it’s everlasting, it’s never going to stop.  This in fact is why God will gather Israel, no matter how many times they mess up. And this is the great message of the scriptures. And I’ll tell you just personally . . .  so one of the books I wrote was about seeing God’s mercy, especially through the Old Testament, because I see, and I know I’m weird in this, but I see the Old Testament speaking of God’s mercy and patience more than any other book of scripture.  And what you have in there is a group of people who mess up again and again, and again, and in crazy incessant ways. And they never stop messing up. And in the midst of that, God never stops working with them.


Sometimes He can work with them easy, and sometimes He has to work with them hard, but He never stops working with them.  Including– and think of it in this way– the scattering of Israel, which starts in 732 BC is God humbling Israel. And we’re now in what a 2,500 year cycle of Him still working, right? That’s a process. He started to humble Israel to bring them back to Him. And He’s patient enough to take 2,500 years to gather them back to Him. By the time the Restoration starts and the gathering of Israel begins, that’s 2,500 years. And that’s when He’s finally saying, “Okay, I’ve humbled you enough that I’m bringing you back now.”  And that’s the reason there will be a gathering of Israel is because once He made that covenant He said,

I don’t care how long it takes.  I don’t care what you do. It’s never over. I’ll do whatever it takes to bring you back.”

 And the beauty is that somewhere in the middle of there, Israel, God scattered throughout all the earth. So that now, as He brings Israel black, they can bring everybody with them. They can bring the whole world with them as He brings them back. So that’s powerful to see us as part of that big story, but then let’s remember not only is that covenant with all of Israel, that’s a covenant He made with you individually. You have “chesed” with God now, and it doesn’t matter how stupid you are and how many times you mess up, He’s not done with you. He’s not going to give up. And you’re never so far removed from Him that He won’t keep trying to bring you back to Him. And that understanding of that relationship with God has changed my understanding of who I am and of what my purpose is in life and of my relationship with God in a way that is so tremendously comforting and beautiful, that it really is transformative. And I think it is for anyone in life. I think it is, especially for people who are struggling say, with depression or anxiety and often struggle with feeling the spirit in those instances. But hopefully they can know that if God will take 2,500 years with Israel, however long it is with them, it’s going to be less than that. And He will bring you back. And that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to understand.


Kristen Walker Smith: 

My mind was blown again. I so appreciate everything you just said. And actually one of my favorite phrases in the Old Testament is about how his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. It says it so many times, and I love that testimony of yours that He will not give up on us. 

Now I want to bring it down to Kristen level, because again, I think what you said was so beautiful, but I want to make sure that I’m understanding right and that everyone that listens is understanding. 

So what I heard– and I freaked out in the middle there was because something suddenly clicked and it made sense– is that God is working through Jesus, who is talking to His covenant children and that God and Jesus want us to bring the others who are outside of the covenant, into the covenant so they then can have Jesus as their mediator with the Father to bring them to Him.


Is that right? 


So it’s like these layers of mediators, and we’re actually a mediator between Christ and the people who don’t know Him yet, and we’re bringing them to Him so they can then get to God, is that right?


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein: 

You have a way of saying things perfectly– you nailed that and I think you’re right. You just described it. How, in some ways we are symbols or types or figures of Christ, right? That’s why we’re saviors on Mount Zion because we are mediators to help others to Christ so He can bring them to the Father. Now I do want to add in there lest we be misunderstood I don’t think that that means that anyone who’s not part of the covenant never has an experience with Jesus. I don’t think that.  Lots of people do, they have experiences with Jesus, but not the kinds and the consistency that they can within a covenant context.


Cali Black:

Yeah, that’s awesome. And one of the things that made the biggest impression that you said is . . .

. . . it’s really all about love.

Cali Black

I love that analogy of your love with your spouse. Like it’s a different, stronger kind of love that binds together. You’re on the same page, you’re creating life, you have these common goals together, and then you’re trying to do as much good as you have. That just really clicked for me– this is all about love.

And of course He loves everyone, but it’s this special everlasting love and kindness that we are seeking that we can’t fully reciprocate yet. We’re never going to be able to reciprocate that until we have become even more perfected, but we can at least do our best to covenant and try and become a little better.

Cali Black

And He is doing more than His fair share of, of showing that love to us right now. Yes.


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

And of course, as a parent, He wants to have that kind of loving relationship with all of His children, but His children are going to have to make some choices to be able to have that relationship. And that’s what He’s asked us to do. That’s why President Nelson is saying– I think. . .  I can’t read President Nelson’s mind– but I that’s why I think President Nelson is saying this is the most important work. This is a transcendent work because it’s what God wants more than anything else is to get all of His children into that kind of a relationship with Him.


Kristen Walker Smith

Kerry, this has been beautiful. I have to be honest, I don’t think many people are excited to talk about the House of Israel and I am now pumped.  I’m pumped and I cannot wait to share this with everyone because I think everyone needs a Kerry in their back pocket just reminding them repeatedly that this is what it’s about. So thank you so so much. 

As we finish us we always like to ask our guests on the podcast– kind of in the spirit of what President Nelson has been inviting us to do, where we recognize the spirit more in our life– so we would love to ask you, how do you #HearHim?


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

What a profound question. I’m glad you asked. I always ask that question. I would say that the primary way is of course through the Holy Ghost; but for me primarily, as I study the scriptures, or as I have time or make time– I shouldn’t say “have” but “make” time– to stop and think, and then either try and talk about it with others or write things down. That’s when the ideas come. And then I just have to recognize that those ideas when suddenly you understand, it suddenly it’s delicious, or something along those lines, that that’s the spirit. It’s honestly part of why I write or teach, because that’s when I learn; it’s a little bit of that idea of, “open your mouth and it shall be filled.” I can’t tell you how many times, either in a classroom or a lecture, or as I’m writing, I suddenly say something that I didn’t fully get how it all went together before, but as I say it I’m learning and I know it’s true.

And so it’s the study, the pondering, and then the doing something with it is how I hear him.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein

Cali Black: 

I love that. And I feel like I relate to that a lot too. There’s something powerful in trying to teach or put concepts into words that the spirit fills in those missing gaps. Thank you so much for being here today. Um, what’s the name of your book that’s coming out again?


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of the House of Israel— I can’t remember other people come up with these titles.  My original title was the Abrahamic Covenant Path, which is also a good title, but I liked this one even better. So I don’t remember it exactly


Cali Black: 

Whatever it’s called. I am excited to get it myself. 


Dr. Kerry Muhlestein:

Honestly the whole point behind it, the whole reason I wrote it, and the reason that they’re pushing it is because we want to help people be able to recognize the covenant and the blessings that are available in the covenant and do what President Nelson asked them to do. And so I’m thrilled if this podcast or any of the different things I’ve written and anything that helps anyone find the beauty and power of the blessings of the covenant, the way it’s affected me, that’s what this is all about.


Cali Black: 

Thank you again so much for your time and for those listening, thank you for coming closer to Christ with us a few minutes at a time. We’ll see you next time.

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