Many Americans today believe that America is a special land chosen by God. Critics of this view say that this is because of arrogance and pride and that there is nothing special about America at all.
Latter-day Saints, however, know the truth about God’s views of this land, for it is spelled out plainly in sacred scripture. In fact, this is where the view that America is a chosen land originated. Many Founding Fathers and biblical scholars of the day believed that America was the “New Israel” or “New Zion” and used scriptures from Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Zechariah to support this view.
So what exactly has the Lord said about the land of America? Why is it important? What is its ultimate destiny? And what should our attitude be concerning this land?
After the Beginning
From modern revelation, we have learned that the land of America (of course, it wasn’t called that back then) is where Adam dwelt and bestowed his last blessing upon his posterity (D&C 116; 107:53). We can infer that it is around this area that the children of Adam dwelt until the Flood changed the face of the land and Noah landed in the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4).
But the Lord intended for His children to inhabit the land of America.
When the Lord confounded the languages at the Tower of Babel, the Book of Mormon tells us that Jared asked his brother to pray to the Lord for mercy and to not confound their language. The Brother of Jared did so, and they were spared.
Jared then asked his brother to pray again, asking him to specifically pray that the Lord would lead them “into a land which is choice above all the earth” (Ether 1:38). The Lord had compassion on Jared and his brother and told them to gather their flocks, supplies, and their families and promised that he would go before them and lead them “into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth” (Ether 1:42). Clearly, God did have a favorite location on His creation.
As the Jaredites left for this new land, however, they were left with a warning from the Lord saying, “he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off” (Ether 2:10).
As we know, the Lord led the Jaredites to the American continent (JSH 1:34), and for a time, they kept the commandments of the Lord. Eventually, however, they descended into sin and depravity and were swept off, just as the Lord had promised.
The Nephites of the Book of Mormon
As the Jaredites were on their way to destruction, the Lord was preparing for others to inhabit the land.
As Father Lehi took his family and fled to the wilderness, Nephi desired to know for himself if everything his dad was telling him was true. The Lord confirmed his father’s words and also told him, “inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands” (1 Nephi 2:20).
We see that the same promise which was extended to the Jaredites was extended to the Nephites: serve God and prosper or be swept off. This is a theme that would be repeated over and over throughout the Book of Mormon by the Lord. There were many times where the Nephites would keep the commandments and prosper both spiritually and temporally. However, whenever they prospered materially, they would begin to become prideful and forget the Lord. Ultimately, this cycle would end in the destruction of the Nephite civilization, just as the Jaredites.
Before the destruction of the Nephites, Nephi was shown a magnificent vision that showed the establishment of the Gentiles in the promised land and the formation of America which comprises two chapters in 1 Nephi 13 and 14. Of the things Nephi saw, he specifically made mention of several important events relating to America:
- Columbus and his inspired voyage to the New World (1 Nephi 13:12).
- The establishment of the Gentiles as a free people in the land as the Lord would prophesy in the flesh (1 Nephi 13:15-19; 3 Nephi 21:2-4).
- The use and spread of the Bible in America (1 Nephi 13:20-23).
- The coming forth of the Book of Mormon to the Gentiles who are in the promised land (1 Nephi 13: 35-36).
Many people today would have us believe that the founding of America was a horrible and regrettable thing. However, from this one chapter, we learn several important things.
First, we learn that God inspired many individuals including Columbus to travel to the New World. In fact, Columbus in his own words said the “Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my emprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?”
Next, we learn that in this vision, Nephi was learning about what the Lord would teach his descendants Himself. The Father needed to set up the Gentiles in America as a free people so that the Book of Mormon (and the fullness of the Gospel) could come forth (3 Nephi 21:4). The whole purpose of this was to fulfill His covenant could be fulfilled with the House of Israel. So, freedom in America was and is absolutely critical in the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children. But, the importance of the promised land of America did not end with the restoration of the Gospel.
A Date With Destiny
Indeed, America is to play a special role in the last days. In the Lord’s ministry to the Nephites, He promised that a New Jerusalem would be built up by the righteous members of the House of Israel and the Gentiles (3 Nephi 21:23). The Savior also promised that after the New Jerusalem is built up, He will personally come down among the inhabitants that dwell there (3 Nephi 21:25). Moroni also taught that the New Jerusalem would be built in the promised land (Ether 13:6).
In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord identified Missouri as “the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion” (D&C 57:2). We also know that the city of Zion will be “a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints” against the wars and calamities that will come upon the earth (D&C 45:66).
This Land is God’s Land
With all of this knowledge from the scriptures, one thing becomes abundantly clear: this land is God’s land. He is the One who leads people here to be a free people. The condition for living in the land as a free people is righteousness. We must serve the Lord or be swept off the land. This is a covenant upon the land that neither you nor I can change.
So the question then becomes, are we keeping this covenant with the Lord that we implicitly made by living in the land? As freemen of the latter-days, we have a duty and an obligation to serve God and live in accordance with His teachings. It is only in this way that we can remain a free people, as the Lord has stated. It is therefore incumbent upon us to also spread this message throughout the land to all who will listen.