Memorable moments during General Conference not only include testimonies borne over the pulpit but also testimonies borne through song. One special and powerful musical sermon was given during the October 2014 Conference Priesthood Session by a choir of approximately 375 young missionary Elders chosen from the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. This stirring arrangement of the Latter-day Saint hymn “Ye Elders Of Israel” deserves special mention during our Conference Countdown.
Points To Ponder:
- Solo Voice: It is only on very rare occasions in history that a musical number during a General Conference includes a solo singer. Traditionally, music is performed by a full choir. This arrangement opens with a single clear tenor voice belonging to an “Elder Hunter” [as seen on his missionary name tag]. Very lovely!
- Hymn History: The text for this hymn was written by an early Latter-day Saint convert named Cyrus Hubbard Wheelock (Feb. 28, 1813 – Oct. 11, 1894). There are multiple inspiring stories about Brother Wheelock. He led a truly remarkable life. He was devoted to the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., and in 1844 tried in vain to convince Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois to release Smith from his illegal incarceration at Carthage Jail. It was Wheelock that gave Smith the pepperbox pistol used in an attempt to defend himself at Carthage jail on June 27, 1844 when a mob attacked the jail at Carthage, killing the prophet.
Wheelock must have been particularly devastated by the loss of his prophet and dear friend. He spent the rest of his life giving tireless service to the Church and to others, bearing witness of the restored gospel, and serving as a missionary both throughout the USA, and in England. He was assigned as Captain of a wagon train of pioneers and guided them safely to the Salt Lake Valley. He presided as president over three missions, and later served as the President of the Quorum of the Seventy where he traveled and spoke to missionaries often. Brother Wheelock joined the rescue party requested by President Brigham Young, risking their lives to dramatically save the stranded handcart pioneers at the Sweetwater River. I was very interested to learn that he was an early settler of Mount Pleasant, Utah (a place close to my heart – where my ancestors settled). Brother Wheelock was called to raise the funds needed to complete the beautiful Manti Temple. During the last years of his life, Cyrus Wheelock was ordained as a Patriarch, and it is recorded that he gave countless powerful blessings to people who traveled miles for his healing, comfort and guidance.
Although biographies of Cyrus Wheelock mention that he wrote “several hymns”, Ye Elders of Israel is his only composition included in the current LDS Hymnbook.
- SCRIPTURE REFERENCES: The text for this hymn was inspired by two revelations regarding missionary work given to the prophet Joseph Smith, included in the Doctrine & Covenants.
D&C 133:7-8 (November 3, 1831)
Yea, verily I say unto you again, the time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you: Go ye out of Babylon; gather ye out from among the nations, from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Send forth the elders of my church unto the nations which are afar off; unto the islands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, first upon the Gentiles, and then upon the Jews.
And behold, and lo, this shall be their cry, and the voice of the Lord unto all people: Go ye forth unto the land of Zion, that the borders of my people may be enlarged, and that her stakes may be strengthened, and that Zion may go forth unto the regions round about.
and D&C 75:2-5. (January 25, 1832)
Hearken, O ye who have given your names to go forth to proclaim my gospel, and to prune my vineyard.
Behold, I say unto you that it is my will that you should go forth and not tarry, neither be idle but labor with your might—
Lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump,proclaiming the truth according to the revelations and commandments which I have given you.
And thus, if ye are faithful ye shall be laden with many sheaves, and crowned with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life.
YE ELDERS OF ISRAEL – Hymn Lyrics
1. Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me
And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be–
In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea–
And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.
O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;
We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.
2. The harvest is great, and the laborers are few;
But if we’re united, we all things can do.
We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares
And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.
3. We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;
We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore
And point them to Zion and life evermore.
Text: Cyrus H. Wheelock, 1813-1894
Music: Thomas H. Bayly, 1797-1839 (adapted)