Israel, Israel, God Is Calling‏

jesus_sheepA homosexual friend of my wife recently read my article on homosexuality and commented that it was a good article but did not present anything new to the discussion. I was not offended; I do not claim to be a prophet. Rather, it is my contention that we have everything we need already before us and that deep insights can be found if we will properly utilize what we have. Pres. Benson basically said this same thing when he called the Church to repentance for neglecting The Book of Mormon, the most foundational of all our scriptures.
In this article, I would like to take a deeper look at one of our most beloved hymns, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling,” currently hymn number 7 in the hymn book. Often with hymns, as with scriptures, we hear things so frequently that they lose their meaning. The Lord has said that songs are the same as prayer (see D&C 25:12), and that when we pray we should avoid “vain repetition” (3 Nephi 13:7; Matthew 6:7). It would seem, then, that we ought to know what it is that we are singing about!
The First Presidency preface to the hymn book, which most members have never read, includes the following guidance:
“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns…We hope leaders, teachers, and members who are called on to speak will turn often to the hymnbook to find sermons presented powerfully and beautifully in verse…We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes.”
1.
Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.
To begin with, this message is directed to us–you and I, the members of the LDS Church–since we are modern-day Israel. He is calling us out from “lands of woe,” from Babylon, as the next line informs us. Woes are curses, or promised destruction. D&C 130:21 explains that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” Curses work the same way, simply because they are the opposite of blessings. You will always get one or the other, depending on what choices you make, because they are two sides of the same coin. Babylon is the world and its ways. As the world moves itself further and further away from the ways of the Lord, they inherit greater and greater woes, perpetually worse and more numerous.
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If we are already members of His Church, why must the Lord call us out from Babylon? Well, unfortunately, we love Babylon and all she has to offer. We love her entertainment, we worship her idols, we prefer her philosophies to the Gospel, and we are content to have one foot in Heaven and the other in Hell:
“Elder Neal A. Maxwell…once said, such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon” (as quoted in The Best Is Yet to Be, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU devotional address, January 13, 2009.).
All throughout the scriptures, the pride of the world is represented by lofty things: tall trees (Isaiah 37:24), hills and mountains (Isaiah 40:4), and enormous buildings in the air (1 Nephi 11:36). Here, the pride of the world is represented by towers. When we place our own ideals above those of the Lord, we exalt them, lift them up, build them up as towers. Here, He warns us to leave those towers behind because they will all be “overthrown,” or toppled. As mentioned previously, the lofty ideals of the world always “bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World), because they are not founded upon eternal principles.
2.
Israel, Israel, God is speaking.
Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!
Now a glorious morn is breaking
For the people of his choice.
We are here reminded to heed the words of the Lord if we wish to be delivered from the calamities that are forthcoming. We are also told that “a glorious morn is breaking for the people of his choice.” What does this mean? Isaiah, in chapter 58, verses 8 and 9, informs us that after we have sanctified ourselves (partially through fasting, which is the focus of this chapter), then our “light [shall] break forth as the morning…and [our] righteousness shall go before [us]; the glory of the Lord shall be [our] rearward. Then [shall we] call, and the Lord shall answer; [we shall] cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” What greater blessing could we ask for? But how do we become “the people of his choice”? We turn our backs on Babylon and our hearts fully to the Lord. Blessings or cursing, we decide. Father Lehi laid it on the line for his own sons this way, in 2 Nephi 1:19:
“O my sons, that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever.”
In other words, you can have it your way for a little while, but God will always have His way in the end.
3.
Israel, angels are descending
From celestial worlds on high,
And to man their pow’r extending,
That the Saints may homeward fly.
Heavenly Father wants so badly for us to return to Him that He sends angels to assist us and give us the power necessary to do so. This includes the priesthood, of course, but it is also courage, faith, hope, charity, endurance, and the blessings and gifts of the Spirit.
4.
Israel! Israel! Canst thou linger
Still in error’s gloomy ways?
Mark how judgment’s pointing finger
Justifies no vain delays.
In all honesty, it was this verse that inspired this article. Think about what the Lord is saying here! He calls us Israel again–a reminder of who and what we are supposed to be, His chosen people–and then He asks why we are still hanging around doing stupid things! He is basically saying, “You know better! Repent!” The final line is the most poignant to me: Mark how judgment’s pointing finger justifies no vain delays. It is hard sometimes to truly understand old English like this without stopping to ponder, and it is difficult to ponder in the few seconds between closing the hymn book and the start of the next talk, or the closing prayer. The message is simply this: the Judgment Day is real, the Judgment Day is coming, and when it does, Satan will be there with a full and complete record of all our sins, ready to accuse and condemn us before the Father. Your days are numbered, yes, but only God knows what that number is! Can you say for certain that you will live through tomorrow? We delay the day of our repentance with all sorts of justifications, but they are all in vain. The word vain here should be taken with both its meanings: 1) without meaning, and 2) in vanity. Think about that for a minute. Go back and read it again. Now, hear it described by the prophet Amulek, as recorded in Alma 34: 31–35:
“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”
Chorus
It should be noted that the chorus is almost half of the song! From a scriptural standpoint, we know that repetition equals importance, therefore the chorus holds the most importance. Throughout the song, the phrase “Come to Zion” is repeated a whopping sixteen times! We can immediately dismiss the ridiculous notion that this refers to Utah, and proceed to the real meaning. On one hand, Zion is a literal place, a city where the Lord will personally come. In order to be in that place, however, we must become a Zion people, and that begins now, before the city has even been built. Zion people forsake Babylon and live the commandments to the fullest; they are loving and kind, patient and loyal. They are earning the right to the presence of the Lord by becoming like Him:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
Conclusion
As you can see, I didn’t have to present any fancy new interpretation or revelation in order to make this hymn meaningful. The meaning was already there, we just haven’t been looking. I hope that this exercise inspires you to ponder more deeply the meaning behind the hymns that you sing on a regular basis, so that they can cease being vain repetitions and begin to represent the true praises and desires of your heart.
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4 Responses to Israel, Israel, God Is Calling‏

  1. Grace Hall says:

    Wish to thank you for enlightenment of the beautiful Hymn of Israel God is calling i to believe you can speak a sermon on the Hymns we Sing as i was preparing my talk to speak in iSacrament the spirit touched my heart as I studied the Hymn I know that My Redeemer lives I woke Wednesday morning as i was about to go to the bathroom the spirit bore witness to me so strongly that He Lives of the week I was to speak in the Easter presentation as I read and reread beautiful chorus Hymn tears stream down my face all that day as i pondered as i read each line of the chorus the Lord was speaking to me i could not stop crying I will always be grateful for His Love His Mercy and His Grace.Topic was what can the scriptures teach me about the Atonement.

  2. Another excellent, thoughtful article, DRK! Thanks! How I love “Israel, Israel, God is Calling” — a very under-appreciated hymn. Every so often I’ll peruse the hymnal and just read the words of the hymns like poetry, and I’ve had exactly the kind of sudden-realization moments as you lay out. The hymn contain profound tenets that we frequently overlook if we merely sing them “in vain”. A few of them that have hit me deeply just reading them are: “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, “Redeemer of Israel” (3rd through 5th verses always hit me hardest), “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (It is imperative to read all the verses. More than once I’ve started sobbing just reading them.), and “How Firm A Foundation”, the final verse always reverberates powerfully through my soul.

  3. BTW, in the article you discuss but don’t list the lyrics of the Chorus.

    For those unfamiliar with the Chorus of the song, the first verse’s chorus is as follows:
    Come to Zion, come to Zion
    Ere his floods of anger flow.
    Come to Zion, come to Zion
    Ere his floods of anger flow.
    [i.e. “ere” is old English meaning “before” or “prior to”]

    The other verses’ choruses also have “Come to Zion, come to Zion” twice, as DRK mentions, but the other passages for verses 2, 3 and 4 are repeated after those lines as follows:
    2nd – And within her walls rejoice.
    3rd – For your coming Lord is nigh.
    4th – Zion’s walls shall ring with praise.

  4. David Johnson says:

    I think we get too hung up on the word PROPHET, from how the Church has developed it to suites its needs. Prophets are those who speak by the Spirit, but then that is why it is also so vital to have it as well, to receive the truths; by their fruits ye shall know them; those that have the signs and gifts of the Spirit.

    I agree, the song is totally Apropos to the church today; and its decent into apostasy.

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