Christianity’s “errand into the wilderness”

I’m desperately scrambling  this morning to prepare my lesson for Relief Society today. I’ve been scrambling all week, amidst packing and moving house, and painting and furniture-assembling. I think the quick study breaks I’ve been trying to take in pockets throughout the week have kept me alive somehow.

I came across an observation by Jeffrey R. Holland that is today’s “treasure”- it nicely ties in my first two posts here about the abominable church and the wilderness we often find ourselves in.  Because I’m pressed for time this morning, I’m just going to drop what he says here and leave you to mull it over on your own:

When things got too sinful, or there was too much secularization in society, or life with the Gentiles was destroying the moral code and commandments God had given, the children of the covenant would be sent fleeing into the wilderness to reestablish Zion and start all over again.

In Old Testament times Abraham, the father of this kind of covenant, had to flee for his life from Chaldea—literally Babylonia—in his quest for a consecrated life in Canaan (what we would now call the Holy Land). 3  It wasn’t many generations before the descendants of Abraham (and then Isaac and Jacob)—by then full-fledged Israelites—lost their Zion and were in bondage in far-off, pagan Egypt. 4 So Moses had to be raised up to lead the children of promise into the wilderness again—this time in the middle of the night, without even time for their bread dough to rise! “Israel, Israel, God is speaking,” they undoubtedly sang in their own way. “Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!” 5

Not many centuries later, a story of special interest to us unfolded when one of those Israelite families, headed by a prophet named Lehi, was commanded to flee even beloved Jerusalem because, alas, Babylon was again at the door. 6 Here we go again! Little did they know that they were going to an entirely new continent to establish a whole new concept of Zion, 7 but so it would be. And little did they know that it had already happened just like this once before with a group of their forefathers called the Jaredites. 8

As noted, this is a worldwide broadcast to an increasingly international Church, but it is of interest to all who celebrate the Restoration of the gospel that the colonization of America was born of a group fleeing from their former homelands in order to worship as they wished. A distinguished scholar of the Puritan settlement in America described this experience as Christianity’s “errand into the wilderness,” the effort of modern Israelites to free themselves of Old World godlessness and once again seek the ways of heaven in a new land. 9

I remind you of one last flight, the flight for which our hymn tonight was actually written. It was our own Church, led by our own prophets, leading our own religious ancestors. With Joseph Smith being hounded through the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri, and finally being murdered in Illinois, we were to see the latter-day reenactment of Israel’s children again seeking for a place of seclusion. Brigham Young, the American Moses, as he has been admiringly called, led the Saints to the valleys of the mountains as those foot-weary Saints sang:

We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the Saints will be blessed. 10

Zion. The promised land. The New Jerusalem. Where is it? Well, we are not sure, but we will find it. For more than 4,000 years of covenantal history, this has been the pattern: Flee and seek. Run and settle. Escape Babylon. Build Zion’s protective walls.

You can read the rest of the talk here.

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