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Ancient Testaments: Great Parent of the universe

Jacob's fresh new title came from God, perhaps unexpectedly, in the middle of nowhere, to all appearances. It was a dusty mountainside in present-day Jordan.

Jacob was between trial-filled chapters of his life. He had just concluded 20 patient years in the service of his image-worshipping in-laws. He had waded through their superstitions and duplicities in a land 400 miles from his own.

Now, on the morrow, Jacob and all who were dear to him would face an army of 400, headed by his brother Esau, who had sworn to kill him on sight.

That night between trials was long and full of questions. It left him literally crippled. Thenceforth, every step would remind Jacob of the godly role, and infinite joys, that had been sealed upon him.

Since that night, the title Israel has appeared more than 2,800 times in scripture. It refers not only to a generous, redemptive man. It is also a redemptive calling for his people in this needy world. They are to lift, save, edify and bear wonderful news.

To edify and lift who? Besides the friendly, to give hope also to the angry. Besides the believing, to reassure the scornful as well.

The guard watches from his tower along the beach. Few notice him as they play on the garish sand and dance in the heavy surf. But in due time, they will call for help.

Ammon, the "disarming" Nephite of Alma 17, was confronted one day with a sudden crisis. While his companions wept for "fear of being slain," his heart "was swollen within him with joy."

Why? The servant's mission — to do something only a godly lifeguard can do — had moved to the front burner.

In an emergency, the lifeguard disregards his comfort. He dives in. He uses his training. He hopes the victim of tides will accept a saving hand.

Modern Israel has been urged to the rescue in three familiar ways: to share the gospel, redeem the dead, perfect the Saints. Recently, we've been reminded of another: to succor the suffering. Our hearts ache, and yet rejoice at the call.

If such days there must be, Israel is grateful to be on hand for them. If succor is needed, they want to be succorers.

"Succor" comes from a root that means to run. Succoring is helping, but on the double. How beautiful on the mountains, Isaiah said, are the feet of Messiah and his helpers. Those feet are especially beautiful when they come quickly.

Abraham saw Israel, his grandchildren, in premortality. They were "noble" and "great," but also genuinely "good." These the Lord called his "rulers."

Rulers? To some, this may suggest being bossy or overbearing. But the word "rule" is used carefully in scripture. Before telling us that Adam would have that role, the Lord described the sun "ruling" over the earth. This colossal star doesn't yell at, or even nudge, our little planet. He rules by shining, by lending warmth, and by never leaving his crucial post. He creates a subtle "field" that attracts mother earth to her provider.

Israel rules Jacob-like, sun-like, Ammon-like, Adam-like, "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned."

Joseph Smith described the ungracious attitudes of hard-bitten man as "contracted feelings." We cannot afford them. It is our privilege, instead, to do as our grandfather Jacob did — to see through the eyes of "the Great Parent of the universe," who "looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard."

(References: Genesis 32-33; Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42; Abraham 3:22-23; Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 39)

Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" can be found in serialized segments on MormonTimes.com.