Latter-Day Roles of the Twelve Tribes of Israel
Guest Episode with Bro. Ross Baron, PhD.
Meghan: Hi everyone, welcome to this episode of the Latter-day Disciples Podcast. I am thrilled today to be joined by Brother Ross Baron, and who will be discussing the origins of the Twelve Tribes of Israel as well as their our roles and responsibilities in the last days, which is such an absolutely pertinent topic to every single one of us as covenant disciples of Jesus Christ. Brother Ross Baron was born and raised in Southern California. He joined the Church when he was 18 as a convert from Judaism and served a mission in Argentina, the Buenos Aires South Mission, which was eventually divided, and then he served in the Argentina Bahia Blanca mission. When he returned home, Doctor Baron met, fell in love with, and married Kathleen Ann Bolton in the Los Angeles Temple, and the two share nine children, five boys and four girls. Brother Baron received a Bachelor’s degree from BYU-Provo in Finance and a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Southern California – Go Trojans – in Religion and Social Ethics. He was involved in business and entrepreneurship before going to work as a fulltime Institute Director and CES Coordinator in Southern California at the Glendora and Claremont Institute for the Church. After twelve years as an Institute Director and coordinator, he came to teach at BYU Idaho’s Religion and Philosophy Department starting in the summer of 2005, and he commands an impressive 4.7 on Rate My Professor. Brother Baron and his family also lived in Jerusalem from August 2018 to August 2019, where he served as a visiting professor at the BYU Jerusalem Center. Brother Baron has had a plethora of interesting opportunities throughout his life, including swimming across the San Francisco Bay for the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, winning a stove, a mop and a barrel sauna on The Price is Right, playing the drums with Institute students at the Hard Rock Cafe in Los Angeles, and playing chess in the US Open tournament in 1991, where he first played Arnold Denker, who had previously beaten Bobby Fischer, about which he says he was worked. Brother Baron represents an incredible example of what it is to boldly live the gospel as he has often spoken at Christian colleges and universities, educating other sects about our faith. He once represented the Church on a History Channel special, and he also has led community firesides geared towards advocating for the Church and which were attended literally by thousands. So we are so grateful to have you, Brother Baron, and you are a wealth of knowledge on this topic. I especially enjoyed getting to know you and your background, and we are excited to have you share with us today.
Brother Baron: Thank you.
Meghan: So if you wouldn’t mind, I would love to hear, we would all love to hear about the origin story of the twelve tribes of the House of Israel and who is associated with that? What are the twelve tribes, actually 13 tribes, right, that we typically refer to when we talk about them? What were the characteristics that were associated with each of them. And what is the nature of their origin?
Brother Baron: Okay, so here’s Old Testament 101 in 60 seconds. So you have Abraham, who the Lord calls, and he’s married to Sarah. Then he eventually marries Hagar. He also marries a woman named Katurah, and he marries others who are unnamed. It’s through Hagar he actually has his first child, which is Ishmael. And then, of course, later it’s with Sarah in her old age, past childbearing years, she’s able to have, by the miracle of God, she’s able to have Isaac, and then Keturah has the Midianite tribes, and then the others have others. The Covenant is going to be renewed. So the Lord says that in thee and in thy seed shall all kindred in the Earth be blessed. That’s the blessing that Abraham gets. And we can talk more about what that means. But that particular promise is then renewed through Isaac. So Isaac then marries Rebecca. And Isaac and Rebecca have two children, and they have Esau and Jacob. And then that promise, Esau ends up marrying a Canaanite women, and then Issac and Rebecca end up sending Jacob to Mesopotamia, to marry in the clan. And that’s when Jacob goes up and he falls in love with Rachel. But you remember that the father of Rachel and Leah, Laban, basically does a switcheroo on the wedding night, and Leah is married first, and then he marries Rachel. And then, of course, there’s two other women who get married to Jacob, and that’s Bilhah and Zilpah. So Jacob has four wives. He has Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, Zilpa. And Jacob then has a super phenomenal experience at the Javaq River, which is just east of the Jordan River, coming in from Aman, Jordan, where he’s going to meet Esau. And he’s a changed man. Jacob has an interesting experience in Genesis 32, where he wrestles essentially with the Lord or with the angel of the Lord. It’s not super clear, but he gets a new name, and the new name is Israel. And as President Nelson said, that “God prevails in your life.” And so Jacob had got to that point where he had become Israel. God was prevailing in his life. And so Jacob, Israel, with his four wives, has twelve sons and one daughter, and those twelve sons become the House of Israel. And it’s through Jacob that the promise that was given to Isaac, “in thee and thy seed shall all the kindred of the Earth be blessed,” is renewed. And then, of course, that gets renewed through the twelve tribes. And then Joseph, he is the son of Rachel, the oldest firstborn son of Rachel, becomes essentially the lead tribe, the deliverer of Israel. And Joseph, who was sold to Egypt, becomes a type of Christ and a type of Joseph Smith as well. So that’s the origin of the twelve drives.
Meghan: One question that I have is, what was it about Abraham that caused the Lord to covenant such great blessings to him that were then perpetuated through Isaac and Jacob?
Brother Baron: Okay, so I think there are two answers to that. And I think answer number one comes in modern revelation in the Book of Abraham. When Abraham chapter three, which we just read for Come Follow Me, starting in verse 22. “Now, the Lord has shown unto me Abraham the intelligence as they’re organized before the world was.” And he goes on to say, “Among these, there were many of the noble, great ones. And then he essentially is pointing and says, Abraham, thou art one of them, thou hast chosen before thou wast born.” So Abraham, in pre-mortality had used his agency to live up to the light to the degree that God could trust him and extend a calling to him – foreordination, not predestination. That’s the counterfeit doctrine. He was foreordained to become a mighty Prophet. And then in mortality, this is the second point. He used his agency to such a degree that he merited his premortal foreordination. So the way I said that was super careful. Again, in mortality, he used his agency so that he lived up to his premortal foreordination. And so then God could call him, and he did. And he becomes the father of the faithful. It becomes one of the great prophets, great souls, great examples from Genesis 11 to Genesis, essentially 24, you have Abraham focused on. And of all the prophets, there’s not one single instance where the Lord rebukes Abraham. The Lord rebukes Moses, the Lord rebukes Joseph Smith, the Lord rebukes Jacob. Right? But there’s no instance of the Lord rebuking Abraham.
Meghan: Which would indicate that his faithfulness and his diligence and his obedience to the Lord was nearly perfect.
Brother Baron: Yeah, he’s an amazing soul. He’s an amazing soul. And again, when we talk about the hearts of the children turning to the fathers, the fathers are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So the promises made to them that “in thy seed shall all the kindred of the Earth be blessed.” And then my heart turns to my fathers, my ancestors, so that they can be part of those blessings.
Meghan: Yes. It’s really interesting. The way that you answered the question gave me a thought that I hadn’t had before, kind of connecting the prophecy that through Abraham’s posterity, all nations will be blessed, which, of course, we are a part of fulfilling that prophecy right now.
Brother Baron: Correct.
Meghan: But that combined with the fact that he was a noble and great one, the thought that came to me is that it almost seems like the Lord was promising him that as a noble and great one, he would be the father of many of the noble and great ones themselves.
Brother Baron: Oh absolutely.
Meghan: And I think that’s a really unique thought to me is that he wasn’t only by virtue of himself being blessed, but he was being blessed to be the father of the House of Israel, which is home and which I mean, how many of the noble and great ones of the Earth are members of the House of Israel?
Brother Baron: Well, I would suggest to you that the House of Israel is the lineage through which God does have the noble and great ones. Yeah. So begs the question, and I think we need to be careful here to be chosen. Right? To be chosen. Elder Bednar makes the comment, about the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom He has chosen. And so then he goes well, who are the chosen? And Elder Bednar makes the point, we choose to be chosen. We choose to be chosen. It’s not some exclusive group of people. It’s people who choose to be chosen to love God and to love their fellow man. But then I always like to ask the question, chosen for what? It begs that question, chosen to do what? And the answer is chosen to waste and wear out our lives, to gather Israel on both sides of the veil. That’s what we’re chosen to do. We’re not chosen to sit in a chair and eat grapes and be fanned. That’s not we’re chosen to do. We’re chosen to literally work out of love for God and for our fellow man. That’s what we’re chosen to do. So no one should think, oh, these people think they’re uppity. No. Abraham literally lived his life to bless others. He becomes the example.
Meghan: Well, and you brought up the difference between foreordination and predestination, and that obviously warrants the thought of we could have been chosen premortally, but that doesn’t guarantee that we are going to live up to that now.
Brother Baron: Oh, no, that’s exactly right. And I think people misunderstand that predestination is false doctrine. It’s a horrific doctrine, and it takes away agency. Foreordination is the idea that we merited something through faithfulness in premortality and then come into mortality and then have to live up to that light. And we can either live up to that foreordination or fall from that foreordination or never even get to that state. So I’ll give you an example here’s one. Judas Iscariot, called to be in the original core of the twelve Apostles, which means he was foreordained to be a member of the original twelve Apostles, not foreordained to fall. No one is foreordained to fail. No one. So he did not live up to his premortal coordination.
Meghan: And it’s so tragic whenever we see that that is the case.
Brother Baron: I would also suggest to you that Oliver Cowdery, foreordained to be the second elder of this dispensation, to be the witness of this dispensation with Joseph Smith. And I would even in a very bold statement I’m going to make, would venture to say that Oliver Cowdery was foreordained to die on the 27 June of 1844 and did not because he fell from his foreordination and Hyrum had to become the second witness. So section 124 basically says that the Lord is going to put upon Hyrum all of the blessings and experiences and witness that were placed upon Oliver Cowdery. But now Hyrum has to become the second witness, and Hyrum dies on the 27 June 1844.
Meghan: So correct me if I’m wrong, because I tend to get some of my Church history persons confused, but Oliver Cowdery, at the end of his life, came back into the faith.
Brother Baron: Right. Great guy.
Meghan: And he was repentant. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he achieved all of the covenants that he had made pre-mortally.
Brother Baron: Correct. And I’m not saying he’s not going to gain exaltation. I’m not suggesting that. I’m simply suggesting he didn’t live up to his foreordination for his full mission, that he was born in the to do in mortality.
Meghan: Right. Well, and I bring it up because I think it’s such an interesting thing to try to apply to ourselves to understand what were we foreordained to do.
Brother Baron: Exactly.
Meghan: And are we living up to the responsibilities that we’ve been given? And I think that it’s very interesting to think about in the context of the House of Israel and the covenants that were made with the Lord and what our Father’s covenanted to do. And are we upholding their Covenant? I think that’s part of our hearts turning to our fathers is not only realizing what the Lord covenanted with them to do, but then taking it upon ourselves to say, I am going to be a part of fulfilling these covenants.
Brother Baron: Right on. Exactly. And in the end, I mean, we’re talking about Oliver Cowdery and Judas, but in the end, what we’re really foreordained to do is to become eternal fathers and eternal mothers, eternal husbands and eternal wives. It’s not so much about a calling in the Church, and it’s about loving God first and loving our fellow man as ourselves. In the end, that’s our true foreordination, whether you’re a Bishop or a Relief Society President or a mission President or not, I think those things are incidental and that we can get distracted. That ultimately my foreordination and is to follow. Now, Russell M. Nelson, which says the most important work I can do on Earth is to gather Israel.
Meghan: Well, and that’s the same foreordination that Abraham was given and the argument that foreordination was given to all children of God because you said no one has been foreordained to fail.
Brother Baron: I don’t know. We don’t know a ton. I think what we do know is that, again, the House of Israel, it’s interesting that in pre mortality that they prevailed with God or God prevailed in their pre-mortal lives and that maybe other people were mad about it. And I’m not saying anybody in pre-mortality comes to mortality, can gain light and gain exaltation. But again, the role of the House of Israel is now to be the instrument through which the rest of God’s family can be brought back to the presence of God.
Meghan: That seems to be how it goes, right? All the older siblings are left out. And I’m an oldest child, so I can feel bitter about that.
Brother Baron: The Aaronites, That’s not always the way we use it, but I am one because I am a hopefully a person who’s magnifying the priesthood and worthy. And therefore I become a son of Moses and of Aaron and the children of God, the Kingdom and the elect, all those things, the promises that are in the Oath and Covenant.
Meghan: That’s so fascinating. I love how this is illustrating the multiplicity of tribes that we all could potentially claim belonging to. Right. Because our patriarchal blessings, they denote a lineage of blessing for us. And I would also say of responsibility. But through the covenants, the priesthood, our temple ordinances and covenants, as well as literal descendancy, we could all probably claim to be from all twelve tribes of Israel.
Brother Baron: So I think that’s an interesting point you’re bringing up, and I think it’s important for people to hear. I think sometimes there might be a few people who are a particular pure line. Right. But in 2022, because of the scattering and the gathering of Israel, I think of Jacob 5- the pruning, the grafting, the scattering, the gathering, the planting. Right. That all of us probably have, you’re from Ephraim I’m assuming?
Brother Baron: Okay. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have other bloodlines in you. Right. So, for example, when my oldest son got his blessing, his patriarchal blessing, when he declared lineage, the patriarch paused for, I thought, a significant amount of time and then declared he was from Ephraim. Afterwards, he talked to us, he talked to my wife and my son and me. And he said the reason I paused was because you when you looked at my son, Josh, he said you have a lot of Judah in you, but your predominant bloodline and the blessings will come because you’re Ephraim bloodline.
Meghan: So that denotes descendancy, I’m assuming.
Brother Baron: So my wife is from Ephraim. So he has Ephraim in him, and he was trying to discern the spirit of what is the tribe to which he would belong and his responsibilities. Right. And again, it’s not to say he didn’t have other lines, but the predominant one was Ephraim.
Meghan: Yeah. That’s so cool. I want to talk a little bit more about Ephraim because obviously, especially where we are in the United States, members of the Church who get their patriarchal blessing most frequently I would say, correct me if I’m wrong, are of the tribe of Ephraim.
Brother Baron: Right.
Meghan: I was talking to a young woman a week or two ago who had recently gotten her patriarchal blessing, and she was saying, oh, I was so disappointed when it said that I was of the tribe of Ephraim, I wanted to be special. I wanted to be from one of the other tribes. And it kind of made me sad because first off, because I think that she’s not the only one. I remember when I was 15 and got my patriarchal blessing that there is kind of this associated disappointment almost when you’re just like everybody else. It’s kind of how it feels. And obviously in growing up and maturing and learning more about the gospel, I’ve really come to respect and appreciate it and have a sense of pride in being at the house of Ephraim specifically. So can you tell us a little bit about the symbolism of Ephraim and their history and as you said, the responsibilities that are ours to claim?
Brother Baron: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s what you’re told is a fundamental misunderstanding. Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, remember, I told you the Lord never rebuked Abraham. He never rebukes Joseph either. 56% of the Book of Genesis is two people, Abraham and Joseph. Okay. So Joseph, like I told you earlier, is a type of Christ. Joseph is also a type of Joseph Smith. Joseph is incredible. And his two children, Ephraim and Manasseh, who become inheritors in the tribe of Israel. And like Lehi, for example, Alma, chapter ten, verse three, comes from Manasseh. Right. So Joseph’s line, and you’re from Joseph and the house of Ephraim and people are like, oh, I want to be special. Being from Joseph is special because, now this is the symbolism. Most of the tribes have a particular symbol. Some are clearly seen, some are a little, like I said, cryptic. The symbol for the tribe of Ephraim is the ox. The symbol for the tribe of Judah is the lion. And I think it’s fascinating that the baptismal font, which is the gate of heaven, is resting on the back of twelve oxen. Now, it has dual symbolism in that it’s representing all the tribes of Israel, no question about it. But in a particular way, it’s representing the tribe of Ephraim. And it’s essentially saying the responsibility, the weight on the back of the house of Ephraim rests the weight for the gate of heaven. And so it is Ephraim’s responsibility to lead out. It’s Ephraim’s responsibility to be the gatherer. In fact, Joseph, the Hebrew word for Joseph, Assaf, the idea of the root is to gather. So Ephraim’s responsibility in the latter days. President Russell and Nelson, we gather. And that’s why I told you earlier, what’s my responsibility from Judah right now? It’s to co-partner with Ephraim to gather Israel, period. And if you came in from Issachar or Zebulan or Levi or Dan, and you said to me, what’s my responsibility? Co-partner with Ephraim to gather Israel, boom. That’s what we do on both sides of the veil. And so there’s nothing unspecial about being from Ephraim. In fact, it’s one of the great privileges. And in the latter days, until Jesus comes, the First Presidency, Ephraim, they’re Ephraimites. And we essentially bend the knee and receive our blessings from Ephraimites, who received the keys from the Savior. So I’ll tell you a funny story. Years ago, we had a family home evening, and I think I had seven children at home, and I was talking about the tribes of Israel. And I said, I will never be the President of the Church. And they were like, Why, dad? And I said, well, there’s a lot of reasons, but one reason is I’m the wrong tribe. And they were like, what? And I said, yeah, I’m from Judah. And right now that’s not the way it works in the latter days. And I have one daughter. And she was like, that is so lame. That is so unfair. And I was like, I’m totally okay. I’m absolutely at peace. But she didn’t understand. And I just said, it’s not my role. It’s not the role right now. And I have the honor and privilege of doing my work and my sphere and being involved in God’s work and having his spirit with me. It doesn’t matter. But it’s Ephraim’s role to lead out. It’s Ephraim’s role to lead out.
Meghan: And again, just that illustration that it’s a privilege. It’s a responsibility. And it’s not anything that makes us better or worse than any other tribe.
Brother Baron: No, it’s a role. It’s a role. That’s all it is. And the Lord will bless us in every sphere wherein we do His work. I’ll tell you, like I’ve served in what you might call high church callings, right? I’ve been a state President. I’ve been a Bishop. I’ve served a full time mission. I’ve done ordinance work. I’ve been an ordinance worker in the temple. But if you called me to be the hymn book organizer in the Church, I want to be the greatest hymn book organizer there would be. I don’t know if that’s a calling, but if it was a calling, do you see what I’m saying? Like, it literally doesn’t matter. If you’re in God’s work, then you have a right to God’s help to do that work in that sphere. And what a privilege, what an honor, what a blessing. So if you’re called to be in the nursery or you’re going to teach the CTR Five class or you’re going to be the relief society President, good for you. Magnify that calling in that sphere, and you’ll have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and you get to be gathering Israel. And by the way, you as a mom with your three little guys, they’re your little investigators. Those are your investigators. What do you do as a missionary? What’s your goal as a missionary? Your goal as a missionary is to always have your investigators have experiences with the Spirit, right? So you have your three little investigators right now. And so what’s the most important work again, what did I say earlier? Ultimately, what we are foreordained to become is eternal moms and dads and eternal husbands and wives, not eternal stake presidents. I don’t think there are that in the next life. So everything is scaffolding. And I use that word. Elder L. Tom Perry use that word. The Church is scaffolding so that we can become eternal families.
Meghan: I love looking at this topic from such a broad lens, because I’m afraid that when we are in the midst of our everyday life, even when we’re hearing the Prophet stand up and say that the most important thing you can do in your life right now is to gather Israel, it seems that until we step back and realize that this is not anything new, this doesn’t even date back to Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel. We’re talking about a legacy that’s thousands of years old, a work that has been that the foundation has been laid for, I mean, you could argue eternity. This is an eternal work that we’re a part of right now. And I think that until we step back and we realize the things that you said, the baptismal font sitting on the back of twelve oxen, and that’s the gateway to heaven. And until we step back and say the work of Salvation, you can water down the responsibility of Ephraim to say, oh, it’s missionary work. And that can sound kind of milk-toast, a little bit boring maybe to people. But when you step back and see, you are actually participating in the fulfillment of covenants that Jehovah made to the most righteous men and women to ever walk the face of the Earth. And you get to be a part of fulfilling his work, right?
Brother Baron: Well, I would even go further and say that in the title page of the Book of Mormon, Moroni lays out essentially one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon. And one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is that we would know the covenants of the Lord, that we are not cast off forever, that we’re not stranded, that because of Jesus Christ we can repent and be brought back into His covenant. And that it’s not exclusive, it’s inclusive. The gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive. I’ll tell you a story. Years ago, I was down in the Los Angeles area, and they asked me to do a tour of a group of people from the University of Judaism around the Los Angeles Temple. And it was great. There was about 35 of them. We went and had this great experience, and then we ended up the steps of the temple, and there was people going in and out of the temple, as you can imagine. Right. But we were there, and I was talking about it. And one woman kind of aggressively said, “I would never believe in a God who wouldn’t let me in his house.” And I said, “Oh, no, God is inviting all of you in His house.” And she said, “Oh, so can I go in right now?” And I said, “Nope. ” And she goes, “Well, then I wouldn’t believe in that God.” And I said, “Can I ask you a question?” She goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Do you smoke?” She goes, “No, I don’t smoke.” I go, “Do you let people smoke inside your home?” She goes, “I don’t.” And I go, “That’s because it’s your home.” She goes, “That’s correct.” And I go, “To the core of our beings, we believe this is God’s house. And He sets the terms and conditions of who can come in and what the behavior is that would be appropriate there. But he’s inviting anybody will abide that standard that he sets to go in.” And about the whole group was like, wow, cool, we’re down. She was still kind of upset with me. But the idea of the inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. Inclusiveness of the gospel. Right. Both the work on the other side of the veil, the work on this side of the veil is inclusive. It’s not exclusive. And so this idea that we’re not cast off, that we are part of this work to love God’s children, to waste and wear out our lives, to bless them, that’s the beauty of this thing. So, yeah, no, there’s no boring or menial or pedestrian part of the gospel.
Meghan: So much food for thought. I’m curious about some of the complications that this history has caused with the Middle East and with Israel as a country and as a nation. My understanding is that obviously the tribe of Judah is housed primarily in Israel and in the Israel was a Covenant land that the Lord set apart for the House of Israel specifically. And it’s complicated right now because of the relationships with the other people that also have lived in that land for millennia. And my understanding is that the House of Israel obviously came through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and a lot of the people in the Middle East that are related come through Esau, is that correct?
Brother Baron: Ishmael and Esau and the Midianites through Keturah. So it’s even more complicated Ishmael theoretically are the Arabic Peoples, but you have Midianite Peoples and you have other relatives. Lot, for example, has seed there that’s Abraham’s nephew, and those were the Ammonites and the Edomites. It’s a complicated thing. Okay. So it’s Esau, Ishmael, it’s Lot’s children. It’s a lot. .
Meghan: Yeah. I feel like in trying to understand conflicts in the Middle East, we tend to look, we try to go back in history to a degree, and some people go back to the 1960s or the 1940s, and it’s like, no, you need to go back to what is it, 3000 C? Is that when Abraham was?
Brother Baron: Probably about 1800-2000bc. Yeah. I mean, whenever we’re talking those dates, I always say give or take 100 years.
Meghan: Right. Who knows, based on the records and the things that we’re keeping. But the reason that I ask is, what do you feel like we, as members of the restored Church, need to understand about the House of Israel and the complicated history there so that we can better comprehend some of the modern day conflicts that we see and be more compassionate and understanding so that we can be a blessing to those people who are in those kinds of situations as well, where there is so much conflict and such a strange and complicated history?
Brother Baron: Well, I’ll give you an answer as it relates to how I saw it modeled at the Jerusalem Center. So the BYU Jerusalem Center sits, I believe, in the single best place in the Middle East. It’s on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City. It is, absolutely, And I’m saying this not with hyperbole. I’m saying it as it is miraculous, a marvelous work and a wonder that the Jerusalem Center is where it is. Okay. It is drop dead gorgeous. The view is amazing. It is considered a gorgeous building by everyone there. And here’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Number one, the Jerusalem Center, the day to day operations is run by an Israeli Jew, not a Latter-day Saint, named Iran Hayett. And Mr. Hayett is an Israeli Jew. His assistant Tofik Ali is a Palestinian, and everyone who works there at the Jerusalem Center is an Israeli Jew or a Palestinian. And the only people who are Latter-day Saints are the visiting faculty and the director of the faculty who’s also visiting there. And so what I believe is happening there, and it works in harmony, and there’s a spirit there. It’s powerful. So people come to visit the Jerusalem Center all the time. Tour groups come, Latter-Day Saint tour groups, other tour groups come. And everyone there is like, “This is incredible. What do we feel here? What is going on here?” And I think the Lord is saying, I know how to do this. I can do this. We can have Palestinians and Jews in harmony here, in peace here. It is literally incredible. And so the BYU Jerusalem Center does humanitarian aid both to Palestinians. It does it to Jewish groups that are needy in Israel. It does it to places like Ahman and Egypt and Syria. It’s involved in all of those things. I’ll tell you another interesting thing. In the Jerusalem district, so that’s the stake. It’s not a stake, it’s a district. So it includes Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Bersheva and Bethlehem. Those are the five units, the branches. You cannot speak Hebrew there or Arabic. You have to speak English. And when President Nelson came to the Holy Land in the early part of 2018, he will always refer to it as the Holy Land. And he does it because the children of Abraham, like you mentioned, and the other children of these prophets and ancient people are our relatives. They’re our clan. And we don’t want to ostracize God’s children no matter who they are. And so while the state of Israel is a Jewish state and we support that, that’s not to say it’s perfect or that things couldn’t be better. And we learned that again from the Jerusalem Center, that the Palestinians and the other people who are not Israeli Jews are treated amazingly, incredible work in harmony there and are an example to the entire state of Israel and the Middle East. So that was a long answer. But it’s really, I think, symbolic of what needs to be happening there as opposed to all the division, all the strife, all the controversy, all the hate, all the war that’s gone on.
Meghan: Gosh, I get chills listening to you because it is miraculous. That’s the perfect word that you used. And I think that when I hear you talking about this, I feel like this is a type, this is a type of what the Lord is going to do. And I love how you said the Lord can do His own work. And regardless of the conflict and the contention and the ongoing struggle, that is reality for that part of the world, the Lord still knows. He knows His children, and we are all still children of God.
Brother Baron: Right. And I think you should also know and I have to note, Elder Holland, Howard W. Hunter, LeGrand Richards, obviously, other prophets and Apostles, including Spencer W. Kimball, who was absolutely integral in actually his revelatory insight on where the temple would be built. I think you might know the story, but it’s on the Mount of Olives. Right. And I don’t know if you know this, but in Israel, you can’t build a house, you can’t build anything without the Ministry of Archaeology. Essentially, they have to put a grid on the land and then stick tubes in and pull out dirt to see if there’s archaeological things there. Right. Like if there’s a tooth or a shard from pottery or a hair or a manuscript, boom, you can’t build there. Right. And so there was huge opposition to, as you can imagine, from Judaism, because we’re a proselyting Church. Right. We are a proselyting Church. So we want to build the Jerusalem Center. President Kimball said, this is where it’s going to be. And I mean, there’s just this uproar. It’s even bigger than I’m making it. Like, again, I’m not speaking an exaggerated or I’m not embellishing. It’s ripping the society apart down there in Israel. So they do this archaeological dig on the Mount of Olives. Now you’ve got to think and a lot of them are counting on this is the Mount of Olives. I mean, we’re talking 3000 years of biblical history, for sure. There’s going to be a shard or a tooth or a manuscript or a hair. So the site where the Jerusalem Center is, they stick the things in, they go do the conveyor belt. They’re looking – nothing, not one thing. And so I have this view that these angels the night before we’re throwing all this stuff away. Then we made an agreement with the state of Israel that we wouldn’t proselyte. And a lot of them didn’t believe us. They thought, no, it’s not going to happen. But you have to understand, when people come to the Jerusalem Center, and I’m not kidding, they’ll say, what is this we feel? And we’ll say, we’re so grateful you’re here. And they’ll say, can we get a copy of The Book of Mormon? No. Well, what’s your website right now? We’ve made an agreement with the state of Israel, we’re not going to proselyte. So we’re not going to tell you what the website is. Can we get a pamphlet? No. I mean, it’s that serious. It’s that serious.
Meghan: Yeah. That’s more strict than what I would think of as just not proselyting, like, that’s. not proselyting… that’s …what stricter terms are there? We can’t proselyte in China. Right. But we can do some of that, we could share a Book of Mormon if we wanted to or if someone asks.
Brother Baron: But here’s the beauty, Meghan. Here’s the power. So around June of 2019, we take the students to the , which is under the Western Wall. So you go all the way to the base of the Western Wall and you go all the way to length and back, okay? But you have to have an Israeli guide. So normally we just do the guiding. But in this case, the state of Israel requires that we have an Israeli guide. So we had an Israeli guide in June of 2019. I had this Rabbi that went with us, and he was an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, an older gentleman, spoke perfect English and Hebrew. And anyway, did a phenomenal job and we got done. And he said to me, he goes, “I need to talk to you. ‘ So I come up to him and I’m like, “Yeah, what can I do?” And he says, “Let me tell you something.” He said, “35 years ago, I protested the Jerusalem Center. I picketed, I wrote letters, I contributed money, I made phone calls, I did everything so it wouldn’t be built. He goes, 35 years later, he looks at me and says, Your students are the best, your students are the brightest, and your Church has 100% kept its word. I’m the greatest advocate for your Church.” And then I thought, that was not me soliciting him, that was him volunteering this to me. And I thought to myself, how does the Lord work? We kept this promise of not proselyting, but people in Israel love us. Everyone knows who we are. Everyone respects us, and they absolutely love us. Why? Because prophets of God, under the direction of the Spirit, made this agreement. That would seem ironic. But then in the end becomes the means by which the entire Middle East thinks we’re amazing. In the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, you have the tribes. Okay. So in Genesis, you have blessings that are given to the twelve tribes. And then again in Deuteronomy, Moses gives blessings to the twelve tribes. I would say the three or four tribes, where it seems clearest, is Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh and Levi. So in the Old Testament, clearly, Levi has some very specific responsibilities and restricted responsibilities relating to the priesthood and their responsibilities as Levites and Levitical Priesthood holders to carry out some of the work of the Temple. Right. And the work of the altar, the work of the lava and then lighting the menorah keeping the shewbread and the incense done. And then once a year, the high priest going in on Yom Kippur to the Holy Holies. Okay, so Levi has that role. Judah becomes a kingly role, and they become the line of Kings down to the Savior. Joseph doesn’t I mean, outside of Joseph, who was sold into the Egypt, the Joseph, the Ephraimites in the Old Testament kind of don’t live up to the highest standard. They’re scattered with the ten tribes. And of course, prophesied the stick of Ephraim is going to come forth Lehi in his family, etc. And so when people ask me, I’m from the tribe of this or I’m from this tribe, what’s my role? Our role is to co-partner with Ephraim, which is the lead tribe now to gather Israel. And that I believe that as we approach the Millennium and into the Millennium, that our particular roles in particular tribes will be made manifest. But right now, my primary responsibility is to partner with Ephraim, to gather Israel.
Meghan: I love that. Going back a little bit when you were talking about Levi. So I am aware of some of, as you mentioned, some of the temple responsibilities, but I recall that the tribe of Levi was also mentioned in some restoration revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants. First off, would you share what that revelation is, what the role of Levi is as was restored and revealed to Joseph Smith and as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants? And then also are we seeing the tribe of Levi step into that role in a significant way?
Brother Baron: So section 13 of the Doctrine and Covenants is this interesting verse where John the Baptist lays his hands on Joseph and all over his head and gives him the Aaronic priesthood and says, this priesthood will be on the Earth until the sons of Levi offer an offering in righteousness. Right. And a lot of people are like, oh, man, so what’s going on there? Well, section 84, the Doctrine and Covenants, which is really the first I would say detailed…It’s not that priesthood isn’t brought up before that or keys aren’t brought up before that. That section 84 is really the first place we’re getting laid out a more blueprint of priesthood. I mean, section 20 is about the organization of the Church. No question. Section 84 starts to go into some of the doctrine. And in section 84, you have the famous Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. Right. And the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood has this fascinating line that says, for whoso is faithful under the obtaining these two priesthoods, Aaronic and Melchizedek and the magnifying, their calling. And now notice this – are sanctified by the Spirit under the renewing of their bodies. And then the very next line says they become the sons of Moses and of Aaron. So I’m from the house of Judah. That’s my line. But when I became a Melchizedek, Aaronic priesthood and a Melchizedek priesthood holder, and I magnify my calling, then that calling and that magnification of the calling. If I do that, the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood now tells me I’m not just from the house of Judah, I’m Levi now. Right. They become the sons of I’m a son of Moses and of Aaron.
Meghan: And that means you are of Levi. Is that what that means?
Brother Baron: Well, all people from Aaron are from Levi. Aaron and Moses are both Levites. They come from Levi. Okay. And Aaron, his posterity specifically, are priests. So they have a priestly function, whereas the other tribes who are descendants from Levi have more of what we would consider a Deacon/Teacher responsibility. So they’re setting the Tabernacle up. They’re taking the Tabernacle down. They’re carrying certain vessels. Right. They’re those people. But Aaron and his sons, they actually offer sacrifices, the altar, they do ritual washings, they go into the temple proper under certain circumstances. And so as a Melchezedek priesthood holder, if I’ve obtained them faithfully, if I’m righteous, if I’m keeping the Commandments, then I’m sanctified by the spirit and in the name of my body, I become a son of Moses and of Aaron. I am a Levite. Now. That’s the promise of the oath and Covenant of the priesthood.
Meghan: That seems to be how it goes, right? All the older siblings are left out. And I’m an oldest child, so I can feel bitter about that. I love that thought of inclusivity. And it reminds me also that the God that we worship is one of abundance. I think that we sometimes forget that. Again, studying Come, Follow Me. And you hear of the serpent beguiling Eve. And he said, has God not said that you can eat of every tree of the garden? Right. And just the phrasing of that question, we automatically look to the restriction. Oh, well, no, he said, I couldn’t go, I couldn’t eat of this tree, when in reality, God is wanting us to eat of every tree of the garden with the standard that there is one tree that we avoid.
I love that thought of inclusivity. And it reminds me also that the God that we worship is one of abundance. I think that we sometimes forget that. Again, studying Come, Follow Me. And you hear of the serpent beguiling Eve. And he said, has God not said that you can eat of every tree of the garden? Right. And just the phrasing of that question, we automatically look to the restriction. Oh, well, no, he said, I couldn’t go, I couldn’t eat of this tree, when in reality, God is wanting us to eat of every tree of the garden with the standard that there is one tree that we avoid.
Brother Baron: Right. But there’s a timing issue, too. In other words, He actually might want us to eat up every tree, including that tree, but according to His will and within the bounds He has set. But they violated agency by going outside those bounds and then received consequences which ended up being, of course, the salvation of humankind. But the point being is that your point of God being a God of abundance, you can take the law of chastity. It’s a timing issue. I always say in class, I always say, talk about law of chastity. On the one side, people will say it’s nasty, it’s wrong, it’s bad. On the other side, they’ll say, no, do it whenever, all the time. And I’m saying Satan wins on both ends. But when we do it within the bonds that God has set, it’s ordained of Him, it’s sanctifying, it ennobles us, it brings us closer to God. It’s one of the great blessings of mortality. In other words, again, he is offering us, like you said, in abundance, all these things according to his timetable, within the bounds he has set. And then there’s blessings.
Meghan: Endless blessings. Well, and tying this all back to Ephraim and the roles and responsibilities of the last day, I think from this lens, it would be limiting to say that there is anything disappointing about being a part of this tribe because we are helping execute the Lord’s inclusivity and the Lord’s abundance by participating and doing the work of Salvation.
Brother Baron: Without question. And going back to your point, if I could go to the Old Testament again. So the Lord set up the Tabernacle, which becomes the temple and becomes the center of Israel communal life. Literally, the Tabernacle is downtown. I think it’s interesting to counterfeit downtown is now merchandise, it’s business district. But downtown in the house of Israel was the temple. And then by Revelation, you were set up around the Tabernacle. So the Levites, the tribe of Levites, encircled the entire Tabernacle. Okay. So they encircled it symbolically. Clearly, if you want to go back to the presence of God, you got to go through his authorized servants. And then Ephraim and the children of Rachel, by the way, Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh, they’re all extreme west end of the Tabernacle. And Ephraim is right in the center, the closest to the Holy of Holies. So Ephraim is on the west end. And then Judah is right on the east end right in front of the door. So again, back to the symbols. Who do you want guarding the gate? Do you want a lion or an ox? Well, you want a lion guarding the gate. And so Judah is at the gate. Jesus also is from the tribe of Judah. He is the lion of the tribe of Judah. Right. And so I think it’s super fascinating where people are in relation to God’s temple and his presence and who’s closest to the Holy of Holies? Ephraim.
Meghan: I love how you’re painting the picture of how we regardless of what tribe we’re from, we all have an integral role to the work that our Heavenly Father is doing. And each role is so beautiful. You could say Ephraim is leading out and Ephraim is the leader, especially in the work that’s taking place right now. But you can’t say that one is better than the other.
Brother Baron: No. And I would even say this, and I know, I think you’ve experienced this, and I think maybe many people listening experience this, but when you fulfill whatever role you’re asked to fulfill in God’s work, then you have the companionship of the third member of the Godhead that’s associated with that, what’s better than that? Like, who cares? So this goes back to whatever it is you’re doing. And I think what President Nelson is doing in the First Presidency is perhaps deemphasizing the visibleness of Church callings and reemphasizing a home-centered, Church supported gathering of Israel that we all participate in. And that is really the work of God. So I always say whenever we’re aligned with the work of God, what’s the work of God to bring the past, the immortality, eternal life of man? Whenever I’m in alignment with that, no matter what my calling is, then I have the Holy Ghost. When I dis-align myself from that and separate myself from that, to that degree, I start to lose that peace, that power, and the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
Meghan: And I would take that even broader. I think we’ve been talking in terms of Church callings and the responsibilities that we might serve in our world and our stake in these various organizations. But I feel like a big part of rising to the occasion of the role that we are asked to play is making this a more integral part of our everyday life. And not just saying, well, I’m fulfilling my responsibilities because I’m serving in this call, although that’s an important part of it. And we should do the best that we can, as you said, regardless of what our calling is. But taking that a step further to say, through the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I want to know what the Lord would have me do on a daily basis that is participating in the work of Salvation. Right. And the possibilities then become absolutely endless.
Brother Baron: Right. And in your life, Meghan? I mean, you’ve got three little kids and you have roles and responsibilities with them, that somebody in a different phase of their life might be able to do different things, one’s not more important than the other. And like you said, you’re going to be guided and directed what we can do. The technology available to us now in terms of being able to gather Israel on both sides of the veil via whether it’s contacting people via Facebook or doing family history or web indexing, whatever you want to do, you can do it now, literally. You don’t need a calling. You could be gathering Israel indexing, doing family history, doing missionary work without any kind of official formal calling, as guided by the Spirit and be as impactful as anyone.
Meghan: And that is amazing. Yes. I was talking to my sweet five year old today was talking to me, and she was like, I want to know what I can do to teach the babies because she has two younger siblings. One of my daughters is developmentally disabled. So we call them the babies because they’re both kind of one year old mentally. And I was telling her, I’m like, the best thing that you can do right now to teach the babies is to set the example and to live in such a way so that they see you and the pattern that you are setting and then want to follow you. And I think that maybe we forget that as adults, but we still can be setting a pattern in our everyday life with how we live. That is evidence of this understanding that we have, that we are part of a bigger picture, an eternal picture, and that invites people to come into Christ, by the way that we live. That’s what you’re doing at the Jerusalem Center is you are living in such a way that the Spirit is absolutely undeniable and you can’t tell them anything else. You can’t give them scriptures. You can’t point them and say to any other resource other than this is just how it is here.
Brother Baron: Well, I don’t know if you know the story of President Faust talking to the Mayor of Jerusalem. I don’t know if you know that. Remember that story? But Teddy Colloc was the Mayor of Jerusalem. And this when all this was going down and President Faust went there, he was integrally involved in all these kind of things in Jerusalem. And Teddy Colloc said to President Faust, “I know you’re going to keep your agreement, but what are we going to do about the light in the student’s eyes?” And then gave a big smile, remember that? And President Faust, he told that in General Conference. And by the way, I’m telling you that that literally has been fulfilled. So that was something Teddy Collock said back in the 1980s. And now we’re at 2022 literally fulfilled. 100%. When the BYU Jerusalem Center students go through the Middle East. And by the way, it’s not just Israel, it’s Jordan, it’s Egypt, it’s Greece, it’s Turkey. Everyone knows who they are. Why light in their eyes. Isaiah says the show of their countenance doth witness against them in a negative way. And I hope Isaiah wouldn’t be mad at me if I did the converse, the show of their countenance death witness for them. In other words, when you have the Holy Ghost and the light of the countenance is in your eyes and on your face, you can’t deny it and people know it. And that’s what’s going on.
Meghan: And that’s amazing. And it makes fulfilling these responsibilities seem accessible to know that if I am doing the best that I can to live with the light of Christ in my life and to connect with the Spirit all day, every day, that by virtue of who I am and what I’m doing, I’m naturally going to be participating as a member of my tribe and fulfilling these responsibilities.
Brother Baron: 100% true. That’s correct.
Meghan: Could you just give us a couple of the last days signs of the times and blessings that are ahead for the tribes of Israel? In really broad terms, maybe harkening, back to what you were talking about, the Tabernacle. That seems like that might be a type for the temple that will be built in New Jerusalem. I don’t know if that’s something. Do you have any thoughts to share on that?
Brother Baron: I do. It’s a big subject. I’ll say this starting off, I recently did a study where I looked at presidents of the Church talking about the second Coming and outside of Joseph Smith, because Joseph talked a lot about the Second Coming outside of the Prophet Joseph. No President of the Church has spoken more about the second coming than Russell M. Nelson. Now, I don’t pretend to know exactly what that means, except I’m giving you a fact, so people can fact check me. You can go and look and you can go from Brigham Young all the way to Thomas S. Monson and look at how many times they talked about the Second Coming. And then President Nelson in his relatively short time, has talked like quadruple the amount of the Second Coming than any of them. So I find that very interesting. And then President Nelson’s comment that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to do his mightiest works and miracles between now and His Second Coming. Okay, that’s amazing. And so, as we know, one of the key indicators the Savior gave was the gospel has to be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. So that’s happening and still has to happen. Number two, there has to be a temple in New Jerusalem. Number three, there’s going to be a temple in Jerusalem. And so I look at kind of the preaching of the gospel, both sides of the veil, the New Jerusalem becoming Zion, a couple of those, and the old Jerusalem and how that’s going to happen. I’m glad the Lord’s in charge. And there could be a lot said about that, but the Lord can hasten His work, as we know. Section 88, verse 73. The Lord’s going to hasten his work, and we are seeing the acceleration of the gospel being preached to every nation, kindred, tongue and people and in the timing under the direction of the first presidency and the twelve, then we will be moving towards the New Jerusalem and under their direction, the temple in Jerusalem. So are there exciting things ahead? Oh, my word. As Elder Maxwell once said, “All the easy stuff has been done. Now we’re in for high adventure.” And so we need to be prepared and we need to be ready to move. So when the Prophet asks us to do things, we’re doing it. And so what’s he asking us to do right now, to hear him, we’ve got to somehow tune in to hear Him. Section 45 of the Doctrine Covenant tells us that the Second Coming, those who have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, will not be hewn down. And so I think President Nelson is tapping into this and begging us to learn how we hear Him and to put ourselves in a position to hear Him. And so my parting thoughts would be, these are exciting times. We need to understand how to hear the voice of the Lord and those vehicles that get us in a position to create an environment so we can hear the voice of the Lord.
Meghan: I think that’s the perfect way to end. Again, this whole conversation, I feel like, has been so meaningful to again paint the picture of the grander work that we all get to participate in. And yes, I totally Echo what you said. I think that there are more blessings ahead than we as a Church can presently imagine. And I think that that’s challenging because without knowing the details, it’s easy to focus on the negative, which we have much more detail on. I think we have more information on some of the challenges that lie ahead and perhaps some of the blessings, but I love to think about there was a quote that I heard regarding the return of the ten tribes of Israel, which is one of the signs of the times that we don’t have information on how the Lord is going to accomplish that magnificent work. Obviously, we have Sister Nelson’s experience where she within a period of 24 hours when visiting Russia, met individuals from all twelve of the tribes. And how exciting that is to see that the work of Salvation, missionary work that we’re performing now is gathering from all of the tribes. But in terms of the return of the body of the ten tribes of Israel, we don’t know how the Lord is going to fulfill that work. But I’ve heard that it said that when He does, people will no longer hearken back to the exodus and the parting of the Red Sea as the most magnificent thing the Lord has ever done and that instead they will say that it was the deliverance of the ten lost tribes of Israel that is the most…
Brother Baron: Well, all the House of Israel, its the Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophecies. It’s not just the ten tribes, but let me just end with this. I’ll say this. You talked about the challenges as we approach the second coming of Jesus Christ, but the challenge depends on where your focus is. Abinadi, right before he’s going to be killed, he testifies of Christ in Mosiah 16, verse nine. And he says that he is the light and the life of the world, yet a light that is endless, that can never be darkened? So if my focus is him and I anchor myself in Christ, a light that can never be darkened? Then I might be in a world where there’s opposition and persecution and there’s yucky stuff going on, but boy, then I’m okay if I’m anchored to him the light that can’t be darkened. So he’s going to be the light no matter what. So if I focus on all the bad stuff, yeah, you can get yourself in an anxiety trip. But we partake of the Sacrament to take up ourselves in the name of Christ, to focus on him. All is good, everything is fine. We’re good.
Meghan: Absolutely. And I always felt that in aiming to be prepared for the Second Coming, if you’re focused on the Lord, if you’re prepared to meet him, Then it doesn’t matter the rest of the truth, it doesn’t matter if you endure them and are caught up to meet Him in a cloud when he comes again to reign on Earth or if you die before then. Everyone looks at death like it’s the worst thing that could happen. And I’m like, no. If you’re focused on the Savior, if your emphasis in your life is continually coming to know and hear Him as you’ve said, then it doesn’t matter what lies ahead. We’re going to see amazing things. Hopefully we get to participate in those as we are worthy and as we are living up to our responsibilities and the blessings that are associated with them. And in the end, we know that we will get to see our Savior. And I can’t think of anything more exciting and more meaningful than that.
Meghan: Well, thank you so much. I’m so impressed by just how much you know and your testimony, and I can tell the way that you live, you know these things. I’m really grateful for you sharing your time with us and we’ll have to have you back, Brother Baron, this is really wonderful.
Brother Baron: Beautiful. My pleasure. And just let me know.
Meghan: Thank you.
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