Saturday, March 3, 2012

I want to know God.

I have a new calling (assignment in my church).
I haven't even attended my new ward (congregation) or stake yet.
But there ya go.

I am now an Institute teacher, and other night was the first lesson for the year.  Hello Old Testament.

It is probably safe to say that the Old Testament is the least read book of scripture among Latter-day Saints.  Yet prophets, both ancient and modern, have stressed the priceless value of the Old Testament in assisting men to know God.  Book of Mormon prophets, as well as the Savior, quoted extensively from the Old Testament.

I've decided, then, to really dive into the Old Testament. 
In preparing for the lesson, I read and re-read several chapters in Genesis, Moses, John, and 1 Nephi.  I also studied the teachers' manual, the student manual, the relevant seminary manual, and a few addresses by General Authorities.

I want to really get stuck into it!

And there really is so much to learn from the Old Testament.

Back in 1990, President Boyd K. Packer said:
"In the Old learn of the creation and fall of man, the foundation for the temple endowment.  You learn what a prophet is.  You become familiar with such words as obedience, sacrifice, covenant, Aaronic, Melchizedek, and priesthood.  The whole basis for Judaic-Christian law, indeed for Islam, is taught to you.  The 'why' of tithes and offerings is explained.  You read prophecies of the coming Messiah and of the restoration of the gospel.  You see Elijah demonstrate the sealing power and hear Malachi prophesy that Elijah will be sent with the keys of the sealing authority...  Now almost abandoned by the Christian world, [The Old Testament] remains to us a testament of Jesus Christ."  [1]

So I've decided to get to know the God of the Old Testament better.

We started by looking at the Old Testament as a whole, discussing its contents and what we could possibly learn, and what we expect, from studying it.  You may already know that its contents can be divided into four categories:
the law (Pentateuch); the histories; poetry (or writings); and the prophets (or prophecies).

What you may not know is that many of the books in the latter section, which are usually quite hard to understand at first (hello Isaiah), were actually written that way for our benefit.  Yup.  They are not simple or straightforward, simply because the prophets knew that simple, plain truths would eventually be taken out of the Bible (think of all the hands and translations it went through).  They hid really important truths, truths meant for us, so that they would still be intact for our benefit in the last days.  Like today.

We also reviewed how to study the Old Testament.  Let's face it - the Old Testament is long, and sometimes misunderstood.  So we discussed some very important keys in effectively studying the scriptures:

1. Constant, Diligent, and Prayerful Study is the Major Factor in Understanding the Scriptures
We already know what we should be doing.  "Search the scriptures ... and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you", and if you do so "with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you". [2]

So simple, yet so profound and true.  You cannot read scripture, and expect wisdom to fall out of the sky.  Nor can you expect that your faith in God or testimony of the principle will be strengthened.

If you pray after/while studying the scriptures, "[y]ou will then know for yourselves and not for another.  You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation."  [3]  Jackpot.

I really love what Elder Spencer W. Kimball once said:
“I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away.  If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”  [4]
2. Coupled with Prayerful Study, Must be a Commitment to Live the Commandments
Reading and knowing the scriptures ain't enough.  You knew that, right?

"But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only"  (James 1:22).
We need to hearken.  Hearken means to hear and obey.  Are you a hearkener?

3. Latter-day Scriptures Give Many Insights into the Old Testament
Because God loves us, and is the same yesterday, today, and next week, He has and always will provide prophets to help guide us.  A modern-day Moses, in our time, offering latter-day revelation to aid in our understanding of scripture (e.g. the Old Testament).

Various sections in the Doctrine & Covenants expand our understanding of biblical events and people.  The additional words of Moses help us fill in the gaps in Genesis.

This all means we can be certain of the inferences and understandings we receive from the scriptures.

4. Knowledge That the Gospel Was Known to the Ancients provides the Means for Accurate Interpretation of Their Teachings
So many great principles are taught within the Old Testament.  The same principles that Jesus Christ taught when He was on the earth (makes sense).  In fact, He quoted those Old Testament teachings and offered commentary on them and how to apply them.

He also fulfilled a few Old Testament verses, too.

5. Understanding the Nature of God provides Special Insight
Something that is not known is this:  the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah, was the pre-mortal Jesus Christ.  He was the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.

Not only that, but many read about the God in the Old Testament, and picture a harsh, omnipotent God.  The kind that throws thunderbolts from the sky.

How wonderful to know the nature of God!  For that same harsh God is the loving and extremely forgiving Saviour in the New Testament.  They are the same, and by studying the Old Testament, we learn about our divine nature and how to know God better.

6. The Nature and Purposes of God’s Covenants with His Children Are Important
Understanding covenants is key to understanding the Old Testament.

A covenant is a binding promise made with God.  The Old Testament records of God's dealings with his children as they make and keep sacred covenants.  We see the direct results : blessings and protection - sometimes He literally intervenes and protects His people - or the wrath of God.  No wonder the Old Testament prophets were always repeating themselves.

We too are a covenant people.

7. Putting Ourselves in the Place of the Ancients as we Read the Scriptures is an Important Part of Studying the Old Testament
I really believe this key is super important, and possibly the key to making the scriptures enjoyable as well as applicable.  Think how you can put yourself in the place of the ancients you read about.  How can we do that?
A Book of Mormon prophet once read the books of Moses (first five books in the Old Testament), and instructed us to liken all scriptures unto us so that we can be more fully persuade[d] to believe in the Lord ... that [the scriptures] might be for our profit and learning (1 Nephi 19:23).

If you do this, you "may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation".  [5]

Then we can truly begin to learn who God is.

This all makes me excited.  I love to study the scriptures - to colour code words and scriptures, to write key statements in the margins, to stick little post-in notes everywhere with relevant quotes, and to glue in diagrams and maps that will help my understanding.

If you need help studying, I'd suggest checking out all the marking guides and study helps over here.  Clever lady.

If you're interested, I'd like to share my lessons and insights throughout the year, as I study and teach the Old Testament ...

[1] in Conference Report, April 1990, 49; or Ensign, May 1990, 37-38
[2] Smith, Teachings, pp.11-12 as cited in Old Testament Student Manual, third edition, p.23

[3] ibid
[4] What I Hope You Will Teach My Grandchildren
[5] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 7:333 as cited in  Old Testament Student Manual, third edition, p.25


  1. Thank you so much for this, I'm going to attend your institute class virtually through excellent summaries like this one!

  2. I miss institute. When my kids grow up I think I might find an institute class to take just because.

    I love #1. And the quote from Pres. Kimball. I have always loved that quote.

    I am working through the gospels this year (character of Christ study), next year I am going to read the entire standard works in a year (thanks to Jocelyn). Maybe the year after that I will undertake a thorough study of the Old Testament.


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