Those people who accept the gospel through faith, repentance, baptism and confirmation are automatically put into a tribe of Israel by the Lord, which tribe they ultimately find out when they receive their patriarchal blessing. In fact, the main purpose of a patriarchal blessing, or the only real unique feature of it, is that it names your tribe. Any other blessing given by any other priesthood holder may contain revelations on your past, present and future (prophecies), but all other blessings are to leave the naming of your tribe alone, as that is the jurisdiction of a patriarch.
Why the importance of being in a tribe?
Old Testament Tribes
From the Old Testament, we don’t know much about the saints who lived before Abraham, whether they were put by the Lord into tribes or not, but we do know that Abraham lived among people who were grouped into tribes or clans (the tribes of the earth.) So, tribes and clans are the norm of the world, unless a State is formed, which always has the tendency to shatter tribal allegiances. (See Book of Mormon Anarchy.)
Concerning church tribes though, we know that from Abraham came Isaac, and from Isaac came Jacob, and from Jacob came the twelve sons of Israel, who became tribes. These tribes were then enslaved by the Egyptians and later freed by Moses, who gave them a tribal law, the law of Moses, whereby they could live in tribal anarchy.
That tribal anarchy lasted only so long, until the tribes demanded that a king be anointed, turning the self-government which they had had into an earthly monarchy, like the nations around them. But, despite the change of affairs, they still remained in tribes, and continued to refer to themselves as part of a tribe, even to this very day. That, in itself, may not be so surprising, as it concerns the descendants of Jacob and their traditional designations, but after the gospel went to the Gentiles, during the times of the New Testament, the New Testament writers continued to stress the tribal nature of the gospel.
New Testament Tribes
There are only two types of tribes mentioned in the New Testament: the tribes of the earth, which, according to Matthew 24: 30, shall mourn when the Second Coming of the Lord occurs, and the twelve tribes of Israel. There is no mention of any other division of the people. Either you are one of the twelve tribes of Israel, or you are one of the tribes of the earth. This is how the text reads. The New Testament writers mentioned both past tribes (Old Testament), present tribes (New Testament) and future tribes (latter-day and last days.)
Some of the references to future tribes (post New Testament) are the following: The twelve apostles of the Lord are to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, according to Matthew 19: 28 and Luke 22: 30; the 144,000 will be chosen among the twelve tribes of Israel according to Revelation 7: 4-8; and the future holy city of Jerusalem will have twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written upon them according to Revelation 21: 12.
Furthermore, the General Epistle of James was written to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. (See James 1: 1.) These twelve tribes were church members, again emphasizing the tribal nature of the gospel and that all who enter it are put, by the Lord, into one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Book of Mormon Tribes
In the Book of Mormon, there is mention made that the Nephites and Lamanites were of some of the standard tribes of Israel: Lehi and descendants were of Manasseh, Ishmael and descendants were of Ephraim and Mulek and descendants were of Judah. But in addition to these standard tribes of Israel, the Book of Mormon people further divided themselves into seven, more particular tribes: Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites. This makes sense as the law of Moses, which was used by the Nephites, was tribal in nature, meaning that it was written and meant to serve tribes, even the tribes of Israel.
After the Lord’s visit to the American continent, the people all converted to the Lord and 4 Nephi 1: 17 makes mention that there were no more -ites in the land, but this doesn’t mean that they no longer kept track of who was of what tribe, merely that no one was called by the tribal or class distinctions, as they were all one people, even the children of Christ. Evidence that they still kept track of their tribal affiliations is found in 4 Nephi 1: 36-38, when they departed from their oneness and started calling themselves and others according to the tribal designations. This shows that even in times of great oneness, tribal affiliations were important.
The prophet Mormon, quoting the Lord Jesus (in 3 Nephi 30: 2), explained the great mystery, still not comprehended by the Gentile Christians of today, that when a Gentile converts to the Lord via faith, repentance, baptism and the reception of the Holy Ghost, they are numbered among the house of Israel from that point on, meaning that they are no longer part of the “tribes of the earth” but are part of the tribes of Israel. As Israel is composed of twelve tribes, these Gentile converts are placed by the Lord into one of these tribes. This is why the General Epistle of James, written to the twelve tribes of Israel, applies to all members of the church, whether Israelites by birth or Gentile converts.
The great Jaredite prophet Ether, whose people had no affiliation whatsoever with the bloodline of the house of Israel, Israel residing in the Old World and the Jaredites residing in the New World, nevertheless thought it important to prophesy to the Jaredites (some of which prophecies are recorded in Ether 13) all about the house of Israel and their cities of Jerusalem, and especially the New Jerusalem which would be built up by the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who are of the house of Israel, upon this (the American) continent, and which would come down out of heaven. All of the Jaredites, from the time of Jared and his brother down to the time of Ether, were all part of Jareditish tribes, meaning part of the tribes of the earth, but those Jaredites who came unto Christ and converted renounced their wordly “citizenship” and became numbered among one of the tribes of the house of Israel, whether they lived before the time of Israel (Jacob) or afterward, it mattered not.
The principle, then, is that tribal affiliations naturally exist on this planet (when States do not exist to break them up) and these tribes and tribal affiliations are worldly, or the tribes of the earth. But the Lord, using the same natural order of tribes, chose for himself an earthly family to represent the tribal affiliations of his people, even the house of Israel. As the tribes of the earth have their own laws, so the Lord’s tribes (the twelve tribes of Israel) have their own laws, given to them by the Lord, their tribal Chief (or King.) Just as the lower law of Moses, given by the Lord, was tribal in nature, so the more excellent law of Christ, given by the same Lord, is tribal in nature.
Tribes in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is engaged in gathering the tribes of Israel. This is what missionary work is all about. Everyone who comes unto Christ, whether of the direct bloodline of Israel (Jacob) or not (a Gentile), is automatically numbered among the house of Israel. The keys to this gathering were delivered by Moses to Joseph and Oliver (D&C 110: 11) and are used by each successive prophet to direct the missionary work.
So, the scriptures taken as a whole, emphasize the tribal nature of the gospel. We, the people of the Lord, are not just numbered by the Lord among the house of Israel, we are numbered among one of the tribes of the house of Israel. All of this is in anticipation of the coming of “the kingdom of heaven” (D&C 65: 6) , meaning the system of government that exists in heaven, which is tribal anarchy.
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