Watchman to house of Israel

Ezra Taft Benson was always a little awed by the fact that a farm boy from the obscure Idaho town of Whitney received such acclamation. In reality, the farm boy never left him. Honest, forthright and hardworking, he was at home with his fingers in the soil. Like prophets who preceded him, both ancient and modern, God took a rough stone and made him a "smooth and polished shaft." (See HC 5:401.)

Ezra Taft Benson will always be remembered as a man of principle and integrity. In his lifetime, the world's values changed, but he remained constant. He consistently stood for that which was right, even when doing so was not the popular course, and it earned him even the respect of those who disagreed.While he never flaunted his religious beliefs, he forthrightly let others know where he stood. Once when considered for a national position in agriculture, he informed the nominating committee about his religious standards. The interviewer replied, "Mr. Benson, we already know about your principles. . . . You will never be asked to do anything that is in conflict with your standards."

After completing an eight-year service as Secretary of Agriculture, he was hosted by several countries of Europe at a banquet in his honor in Rome, Italy. When he arrived at the banquet hall, President Benson was astonished that a glass of milk was at each table setting. Responding to his amazement, the host said, "Mr. Benson, tonight we honor you and drink your beverage!"

He is the last General Authority serving who was born in the 19th century. He knew struggle. By a blessing of the priesthood his life was preserved during a flu epidemic of 1918 that killed thousands. He lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In one of his greatest hours, he witnessed the ravages and horrors of the aftermath of World War II when he, for 10 months in 1946, delivered Church welfare supplies and lifted the spirits of the beleaguered Saints in Europe. He stood on the rubble in Warsaw, Poland, where thousands of Jews were buried and wept as the U.S. ambassador recounted to him the heroic stand of the Jews. He never forgot that moment. Years later as he recounted his feelings to Abba Eban and Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, he could not conceal his emotion and love for the Jewish people.

His spirituality has left an everlasting imprint on the Church. It came from a profound feeling of "the absolute necessity of relying upon [God] for His direction in the conduct of the affairs of the Church."

An impression during the Mexico City Temple dedication caused him to solemnly counsel the Saints about the prompting that God was not well pleased with the neglect of the Book of Mormon by the Saints and that we could not please Him until the Book of Mormon was used more in missionary work, teaching, preaching, and private study. This was a recurring theme of his addresses as president of the Church, accompanied by the testimony that "in our day, the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon." Thousands have responded to his plea to get "closer to God" by studying and applying this sacred volume of scripture to their lives.

President Benson genuinely loved people. Significant were his first messages to the world and the Church. "I love all our Father's children of every color, creed, and political persuasion," he said at his first news conference. To Church members who had become lost, disinterested, or disaffected, he urged, "Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints." The message was not a mere platitude. Whether speaking to a Russian audience in a Moscow church or visiting a less-active Church member at his home in Athens, Greece, President Benson expressed his personal love for all God's children.

But of all earthly attainments of the man Ezra Taft Benson, he was foremost a devoted husband and father. His relationship with his beloved Flora was a romance that spanned more than six decades, with the covenant that theirs is an eternal association.

He was a loving patriarch to his children and extended family. They practiced home evening, family prayer, scripture reading, singing and recreation. Their family motto: "No empty chairs" - portends the time when all may eventually be gathered safely home in an eternal family association.

A favorite passage of scripture was Ezekiel 33:7: "O Son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me."

"Cleanse the inner vessel," conquer pride, study the Book of Mormon, do missionary and temple work, were themes of President Benson's messages. He counseled youth, the singles, fathers, mothers and the elderly. He was a champion of freedom, and it was during his watch that the doors were opened in Eastern Europe - a hope for which he had earnestly prayed. His administration was marked by his spirituality where he led the Saints to a greater study of the Book of Mormon, increased missionary and temple work and greater Christian service.

Truly, he was a watchman to the House of Israel!

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