In nearly any conversation about Book of Mormon geography, the discussion turns to events happening in Central and South America verses North America. Inevitably, this statement comes up:
“It doesn’t matter where it happened. It only matters that it happened.”
The sentiment is understood. It means physical proof of the Book of Mormon is not necessary; it’s a spiritual witness that is important. However, it is important where Book of Mormon events took place. North America is the promised land. Lehi knew it. Nephi knew it. Ether knew it. Joseph Smith knew it and the founders of the United States of America knew it.
On April 6, 1789 , in the first joint session of congress, George Washington was declared the elected President of the United States of America. On April 30, on the second floor balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, Washington took the presidential oath of office. A bible was retrieved upon which he could place his hand and swear to defend the constitution of the United States. Rather than simply placing his hand on the bible, Washington opened the book to Genesis, chapter 49 and placed his hand on that passage. This was not happenstance. In this chapter of Genesis, Jacob blesses his sons and their descendants. Joseph is described as a fruitful bough near a well. His branches (the Nephites and the Lamanites) will run over the wall (the Atlantic Ocean)and the Shepherd (Jesus Christ) will bless the children of Joseph temporally and spirituaully.
Others that came to this country, such as the ancestors of the founders of America, were also descendents of Joseph, that bough which had run over that wall.
Washington knew that America was the promised land to which the children of Joseph had come and would continue to come. Others understood this as well. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin each proposed designs for the Great Seal of the United States. Franklin’s design depicted the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea during their escape from bondage. The seal depicted the pillar of fire sent by the Lord which gave them light, protection and direction. (See Exodus 13:21-22)
It’s true that these two seal designs stood as metaphors for the American colonies escaping the bondage of English rule, but the symbolism went beyond that. The founders of America understood that America was a covenant land. They understood the covenant the Lord made with the Hebrew nation. There are several accounts of this covenant in the Old Testament, and this one in Leviticus clarifies it well.
“For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.
“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” (Leviticus 26:9, 12)
The Hebrew nation with which the Lord made this covenant included those that came to the promised land about 2,200 BC (Jaredites) and those who arrived in 600 BC. (Lehi)
As early as 2,200 years before Christ the North American continent was recognized as the promised land, the Lord’s covenant land. From the Book of Ether, the record of the Jaredites:
“Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.
“And that a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type.
“And then cometh the New Jerusalem; and blessed are they who dwell therein, for it is they whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who are numbered among the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who were of the house of Israel.” (Ether 13:4, 6, 10, emphasis added)
“Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.” (Doctrine and Covenants 57:2, emphasis added)
George Washington may not have known about the coming of the Jaredites, or the Nephites and Lamanites, but he understood the Lord’s covenant with the people of the promised land. He understood that the covenant promised temporal and spiritual blessings to those in the promised land if they would keep the Lord’s commandments. Throughout the revolutionary war he continually called upon his officers, soldiers, and the citizens to repent and keep the commandments of God in order to receive the covenant blessings promised.
Passage after passage use the term “this land” when referring to the promised land. It is indisputable that “this land” was referring to the land in which Nephi, Jacob, Ether and others were living when they wrote those passages.
In 2 Nephi the Lord confirms his covenant with the House of Israel. He tells Jacob:
“But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land.
“And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.
“And I will fortify this land against all other nations.” (2 Nephi 10:10-12, emphasis added)
When the resurrected Christ visited the Nephites it was in this land. It was in North America that he reaffirmed his covenant he made with their father Jacob. He miraculously provided bread and wine to the multitude and said:
“And behold, this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you.” (3 Nephi 20:22 emphasis added)
When we talk about the Book of Mormon and the events recorded, it is important that it happened, but it is also important where it happened. It happened in this land, the promised land, a covenant land, the heartland of America.
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“The Founding Fathers of the United States believed that religious faith was fundamental to the establishment of strong government . . .
“This position was set forth by the first U.S. President, George Washington, in his farewell address . .
“The United States is the promised land foretold in the Book of Mormon — a divine place where divine guidance directed inspired men to create the conditions necessary for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the birth of the United Sates of America that ushered out the Great Apostasy, when the earth was darkened by the absence of prophets and revealed light. It was no coincidence that the lovely morning of the First Vision occurred just a few decades after the establishment of the United States.” — Elder L. Tom Perry, devotional address delivered January 24, 2012 at Brigham Young University-Idaho
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World Map in the public domain
Portrait of George Washington by: Rembrandt Peale (1778 – 1860)
Franklin and Jefferson seals in the public domain
Golden Plates and Breast Plate by: David A. Baird, Historical Arts and Castings