The prophet Nephi writes that “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favoured of God.” (1 Nephi 17:35). He explains that the people conquered by the nation of Israel under Moses and Joshua were destroyed because they had rejected the prophets and were ripe for destruction. However, if they had been righteous, they would also have been ‘chosen’, as were the Israelites (1 Nephi 17:32-37).
I don’t believe that the nation of Israel was some group of people that the Lord favoured over others because he liked them more, or even because he thought they were better people than all the rest. The Lord loves all of his children. But not all of them accept him as their God, so to establish a climate for those who do and will to have that opportunity for growth and learning, he “raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked”(v.37).
The gathering of Israel now – in the Last Days – is not, therefore, a gathering of ethnic but of spiritual Israelites – those who choose Christ to be their God, who have desires to be righteous; who want to be part of his family and to be his people. We choose him and are also chosen by him – because of our hearts, not because we belong to some ethnic group he prefers over others. The Lord, I believe, would have all of his children, or as many as possible, come to him and be counted as his people; called the ‘House of Israel’. All can come, as these scriptures testify:
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely…. (Alma 5: 33-34)
For [the Lord] doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (2 Nephi 26:33)
Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. (2 Nephi 9:50)
Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. (3 Nephi 9:14)
One needs no money, no particular nationality or social standing to come to Christ. All are invited. Those who come – and stay – become His people. His sheep hear His voice! That’s the gathering we’re called to help in; the gathering of all those who want to be part of God’s true family. God will not force anyone to come.
Perhaps we focus too much on the idea of the Lost Tribes – the physical remaining descendants of the rest of Israel (besides the Jews). Perhaps the Lost Tribes are all those who’ve been led astray, by various methods, from the truth of God, and can now return, because that truth has been restored. People who’ve lost hope or faith as a result of traditions adopted by their ancestors. It is a literal and a spiritual gathering. We know that God has sent prophets to many nations and people, to warn and teach (see, for example, John 10:16). Israel is a gathering place; a standard to which all who want to may gather to follow Christ. We make ourselves children of the covenant by what we do and who we are, not by where we come from. God is not partial – He “loveth those who will have him to be their God” – whoever and wherever they are. His commandments to the ancient Israelites to destroy the nations living in Canaan so that they could settle there were as just as His command to modern (spiritual) Israel to “go…out from among the wicked” and be a clean people. The gate will always be open to those who genuinely seek it.