Record of a loving God and his people

The Old Testament contains a heartfelt message that is as current as the headlines of today's newspaper, but as timeless as the book itself. A record of a loving God and His covenant people, it covers the whole spectrum of the challenges of mortality.

I have found seven messages that make the Old Testament meaningful to Latter-day Saints.- First, it is the old testament of Jesus Christ. The word "testament" implies a witness. This is the oldest written witness of the Savior's divine mission. The ancient prophets saw His coming and understood His ministry. The promise of the Messiah permeated the stories, ordinances, and prophecies that they chose to preserve.

Abraham climbed Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac in similitude of the Savior's atoning sacrifice. The story of the exodus is the record of a people in bondage who are led to the edge of the Promised Land by their prophet, Moses. However, Moses cannot take them across the River Jordan. That task is left to Joshua, whose name in Greek is Jesus. Joshua, as a figure of Christ, ultimately leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land.

The Old Testament ordinances, which may seem so strange and mysterious to the modern reader, contained minute details that also foreshadowed God's Only Begotten Son.

For example, the law of sacrifice reminded them of the Lord's sacrifice. The sacrificial animal, like the Savior, was the firstborn of the flock and without blemish. The high priest presented this animal before the congregation of Israel and laid his hands on the animal's head to transfer their sins to the lamb. The animal was killed and his blood was shed for everyone in the covenant. This sacrifice became the centerpiece of a sacrificial meal in which the people for whom the sacrifice was offered partook of the animal and three days later the remainder was burned at the altar. In a like manner, we remember the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament. His body was also consumed in resurrected glory after three days in the tomb.

In addition, the Old Testament has hundreds of specific prophecies about the birth, life, and death of the Savior. Among the prophecies: He would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2.) He would have power to heal the sick. (Isa. 42:5-7.) He would bear the sins of the world and be lifted up on a tree. (Isa. 50:6; Ps. 22:16.) The Messiah would also have the final power over death and rise from the tomb. (Ezek. 37:12.)

Also, specific details of His life are foretold in this ancient record: He would come forth from Egypt (Hosea 11:1), be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-13), and be buried with the rich. (Isa. 53:9.)

Second, the message of the Old Testament is the gospel is eternal. It was the same for the ancient patriarchs as it is for Latter-day Saints. For instance, there is a familiar feeling as we read of the story of Melchizedek and Abraham. They broke bread and poured wine together as they made a covenant. This ordinance is followed by Abraham paying his tithing to his presiding officer. (Gen. 14:18-20.) Both of these actions are paralleled in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We partake of the sacrament and pay our tithes and offerings to the Lord's servants.

There are also familiar tones in the organization of the ancient Church. Moses selected a presiding elder from each of the 12 tribes to form a council of twelve to preside over the Church in the wilderness. (Num. 1:44.) There was also a council of 70 elders who were chosen to be special witnesses of the Lord. (Ex. 24.) These 70 elders made up what was later called the Sanhedrin. There are also shadows of a First Presidency in the Old Testament. Moses was assisted by Aaron and Joshua and Joshua became the presiding elder over Israel when Moses was taken from their presence. (Deut. 34:9.)

Third, the Old Testament is a book about covenants. The ancients entered into covenants throughout their history. They were a covenant people. Our study of this ancient book of scripture helps us learn how to make and keep covenants. We also learn the horrible consequences of breaking our oaths to God.

For example, in Genesis 15, the Lord commanded Abraham to stake several animals and sacrifice their lives as a token of a covenant that the children of Israel would inherit the Promised Land. Abraham stayed up all night protecting these sacrifices from the fowls. Jeremiah explained that this sacrifice represented how serious our covenants are to the Lord. He said, "I will even give them [those who break their covenantsT into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth." (Jer. 34:20.)

Another example of covenant making is Ruth pleading with Naomi to take her back to the Promised Land. Ruth promised to make Israel her own people and Jehovah her God. She added that she would give up her life if she did not keep this covenant. (Ruth 1:16, 17.)

Fourth, the Old Testament is a key to unlocking other scriptures. For instance, we can better appreciate the latter-day reference to steadying the ark (D&C 85:8) if we remember Uzza's attempt to steady the ark. (1 Chron. 13:9.) We can better understand Peter's reluctance to eat unclean animals (Acts 10:14) if we are familiar with the Law of Moses. We are able to see that Abinadi's mention of Moses' luster (Mosiah 13:5) is not a coincidence when he is also filled with the same light as he rebukes the priests of Noah.

Fifth, the Old Testament is the record of our spiritual and physical ancestors. These are not nameless strangers who once lived on the earth, but our forefathers. The Old Testament is our family journal. We are covenant Israel in the latter-days. We are literal descendants of the Old Testament patriarchs. Their lives and struggles have been preserved so we can learn. This is the reason we have a feeling of coming home as we read the Old Testament. It is the journal account of our own ancestors' struggles to live the gospel.

Sixth, we come to better appreciate temples through the Old Testament. Our own Latter-day Saint temple heritage gives us an appreciation of why the children of Israel would sacrifice to build a temple to the Lord. (1 Kings.) We have a greater appreciation for our own temples as we see how the ancients cared for their desert temple, known as the tabernacle.

We also gain a deeper understanding into the symbolism and typology that saturates our own Latter-day Saint temple experience. The outer court of the ancient temple represented the telestial world. The high priests offered up sacrifices to the Lord to leave the telestial world and entered into a terrestrial world, the holy place. Once inside the holy pace he was guided by the light of the mennorah, which represented Israel's covenants to the Lord. There was also a table of shewbread and wine, which foreshadowed the sacrament. There was an altar of incense, which represented the prayers of the saints. Finally, once a year, the high priest was able to enter the celestial world, the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies contained the ark of the covenant, which represented the presence of the Lord.

Seventh, we gain a greater appreciation for the laws of God in the Old Testament. We watch our ancestors spend a great deal of effort and time meticulously obeying God's commandments. The Hebrew word for law is torah. The torah or the law took a very special place in the hearts of the people. In one of the most touching scenes of the Old Testament, the people gathered into the streets to hear their prophet read them the law. All of the people stood in a great display of respect and love for the law of the Lord when Ezra opened the book containing the law. (Neh. 8:5.) The chapter headings in the LDS edition of the King James Bible indicate that the people fasted; confessed their sins; praised the Lord; covenanted to marry in the covenant, honor the Sabbath, and pay their tithes as a result of hearing the law. The Old Testament model of the people's reaction to Ezra serves as a model for our day.

These are a few of the reasons why I have found the Old Testament so compelling. There are familiar tones of eternal principles in this testament of Christ. Its message is so familiar to Latter-day Saints because it is the same gospel. One can embrace this book because reading it is like coming home to an old friend.

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