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“Ye Elders of Israel” by Cyrus Hubbard Wheelock

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - November 28, 2012

[Part of a week-long series about Cyrus Hubbard Wheelock and the poetry of Hannah Last Cornaby. See index here.]


“Ye Elders of Israel”

by Cyrus Hubbard Wheelock

1 Ye Elders of Israel come join now with me,
And search out the righteous, wherever they be,
In desert or mountain, on land or the sea,
And bring them from Bab’lon to Zion so 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 lab’rers 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, deep sorrows and snares.

O Babylon, &c.

3 We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
And visit the weary, the hungry and cold;
We’ll heal up their wounds, and we’ll dry up their tears,
And lead them to Zion to dwell there for years.

O Babylon, &c.

4 We’ll visit the feeble, the halt, dumb and blind,
And preach them the Gospel of Jesus so kind;
We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that He bore,
And point them to Zion for life evermore.

O Babylon, &c.

5 And when we have finished the work we’ve begun,
The Priesthood in Zion shall say, “‘Tis well done”
With friends, wives and children, how happy we’ll be,
And shout, when the trumpet sounds, “Zion is free!”

O Babylon, &c.




  1. I must have heard and sung this while I was growing up, but I remember becoming familiar with it only as a missionary. I loved — and love — it. First, most missionary-themed works are male; this one I could sing out without having to make any mental adjustments to be included as a sister missionary. I could invite the elders to join me in filling my mission, rather than feeling like someone who was standing on the sidelines asking if I couldn’t tag along too, pretty please. (The modern hymn stops after three verses so I didn’t have to cope with the idea of rejoicing with wives.)

    And second, it is upbeat and entirely positive: Let’s go do to this thing, fellow laborers, and bless the lives of the righteous. There’s no schadenfreude about the coming sufferings of the wicked, no looking forward to a day when enemies will be conquered, no defiance of persecution. It’s all an enthusiastic acknowledgement of the blessings of the gospel, so who wouldn’t want to jump in with all his might?

    And until today I never gave a thought to the man behind the words.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 28, 2012 @ 7:05 am

  2. Oh, that’s nice, Ardis. One of my favorite hymn arrangements (ever) is Lower Light’s Ye Elders of Israel, with a woman as lead singer. This is a bootleg copy used in a video, which is strangely effective, cowboys and all, perhaps because I can’t look at all those descendants of the original pioneers without thinking of their ancestors’ experiences. (By the way, the Lower Lights CDs are well worth purchasing, and no, I don’t have any relation to the group. : )

    Comment by Amy T — November 28, 2012 @ 10:39 am

  3. A favorite hymn that we often sing in Priesthood meetings. Now that I know more about Cyrus Wheelock, I have more appreciation for it.

    Comment by kevinf — November 28, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  4. Cyrus served five missions, sometimes at great personal cost, as will be seen in tomorrow’s story about his wives.

    Cyrus served as a missionary in Vermont, three times in England (at a vital time in the missionary work there), and then was called to the Northern States Mission. When I started to read his diaries, I wondered how he could have possibly written “Ye Elders of Israel,” but then I started reading his letters and reading notes about his preaching, and this song very much describes his experience and his use of language. There’s one story about Cyrus that is a perfect illustration of verse 3 of this hymn that I’ll have to pull out and share.

    I do hope someone will write a biography. It probably won’t be me; I’m going to get back to the Eminent Women project; but I really have been impressed and touched by Cyrus’s life story.

    Comment by Amy T — November 28, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  5. A note I just saw in a letter from Wm. H. Kimball, printed in the Deseret News in 1855: “Elder C. H. Wheelock is with me, and I can say, although this is my first acquaintance with him, that it is very agreeable, and he has got a heart as big as a pumpkin, and it is wrapped up in the work, and his life is a sacrifice for his brethren.”

    Comment by Amy T — November 28, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  6. “As big as a pumpkin”! How wonderful!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 28, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

  7. Actually, the current v.3 of this hymn is a combination of the first two lines of the third verse and the last two lines of the fourth.

    This is the first time I’ve seen this version of the lyrics.

    Comment by The Other Clark — November 29, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  8. Isn’t it interesting how someone cut and pasted verses to change it from a song about 19th century missionary work to make it applicable to missionary work today?

    The first place the song seems to show up in print is the 1857 Millennial Star, and that is an account of the Saints setting sail on the George Washington:

    During the meeting several hymns suitable to the occasion were sung by the Brethren and Sisters in a spirited manner, one of which was—
    “Ye Elders of Israel come join now with me,” &c.,
    with the Chorus
    “O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell,
    We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.”
    All hearts seemed to be filled with joy, peace, and praise to their Heavenly Father for His goodness in giving them an understanding of the Gospel, for making known to them that the hour of His judgments (upon Babylon) were at hand, and for making a way for their deliverance.

    I haven’t checked many 20th century hymnbooks, but it had all five verses as late as 1918.

    Comment by Amy T — November 29, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

  9. Some Wheelock descendants requested that I submit a copy of these posts to Daughters of Utah Pioneers. I’m happy to do that since members of the Wheelock family have been so kind and supportive in the course of this project and the DUP has been so helpful in providing material for the Eminent Women and Wheelock projects.*

    Anyway, I’m clearing up a few last details and saw that William H. Kimball mentioned in comment 5 was another of the handcart rescuers. He was a son of Heber C. Kimball and Vilate Murray and a full brother of David P. Kimball, one of the three boys mentioned in the legend of the handcart rescuers. (Which, as we all know, is not strictly true; see the Orton article from BYU Studies.)

    It looks like a significant number of the rescuers may have been family members or missionaries of the converts stranded on the plain. Perhaps the question of these relationships is addressed in one of the handful of books about the handcart company rescue.

    *DUP materials can be very helpful in providing family memories, but users of the collection have to remember that the histories have been created for a very specific purpose by an enthusiastic but largely untrained group of descendants, so the quality of the histories varies widely, and every history must be approached with skepticism and fact checked as much as possible. Additionally, the identity of the original author of the submission should be considered; what connection did they have to the pioneer; what sources did they use to assemble the story; what biases might the author have.

    Comment by Amy T — December 10, 2012 @ 11:04 am

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