Study Old Testament; prepare your heart to seek law of the Lord

"For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." (Ezra 7:10.)

According to the Sunday School general presidency, this single passage in Ezra tells how one can be successful in learning of and teaching the will of the Lord. Elder Merlin R. Lybbert, Sunday School general president, and his second counselor, Elder Ronald E. Poelman, spoke with the Church News about the 1994 Gospel Doctrine course of study, which is the Old Testament. Elder Clinton L. Cutler, first counselor in the Sunday School presidency, was unable to attend the interview because of illness. Elders Lybbert, Cutler and Poelman are members of the Seventy.

Commenting on the value of studying the Old Testament, Elder Lybbert said: "The most important thing we have to do in life is to prepare for eternity. If we don't have the guide, we won't get it done. The Lord has given us many opportunities to learn of Him and His laws. The scriptures are among the blessings we have."

Elder Poelman, referring to Ezra 7:10, said: "It's interesting that Ezra didn't prepare his facts, his logic and his intellect. He prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord. That's where the Spirit can operate. We can prepare our hearts to seek the law of the Lord by asking, What does the Lord want us to learn from this?' Some teachers are anxious to make a good impression. But if they say,What does the Lord want to happen here?' and then do it, they will be better prepared to teach."

And, added Elder Lybbert, the class member, by applying the same questions, will be better prepared to learn.

Elders Lybbert and Poleman emphasized the importance of members reading the scriptures rather than reading commentaries alone.

"There are many commentaries available, and they have a valid use, but they are not a substitute for the scriptures," Elder Poelman said. "Unfortunately, many people use them as a substitute. This analogy may help to demonstrate how much better it is to read the Bible rather than just read a commentary:

"When I used to travel on business, if I had any spare time, I liked to go to art museums. I would buy a little guide book when I first arrived at the museum and read through it before I went to see the exhibits so I could understand what I was going to see, something about the artists, and the work itself. Such reading enhanced my appreciation of the real thing. But if, having read the guide book, I had said, `I know all about what's in the museum,' and left I would have missed the experience of seeing the real art exhibits and having my mind and soul stirred by them.

"But that's what some members of the Church do. They'll read the commentaries as a substitute for the real thing. They will teach the commentary instead of the scriptures. The fact is that the real thing - in this case, the Old Testament - has the promise of the Spirit associated with it, whereas the commentaries are just another exercise and are useful to help us into the real thing. But the real thing is the scripture themselves. There is a spirit in them that, if we're open to it, will not only help us to understand but will also give us the witness that these things are true. That makes all the difference in our behavior."

Elder Lybbert said Gospel Doctrine class members - and Latter-day Saints in general - should embrace the opportunity to study the Old Testament. He said: "There are two books - there may be others - that the Lord has told us to read. One is Isaiah and the other is Revelation. When I was a young man, I often wondered why Isaiah seemed so difficult to me. But if you take a look at the scriptures that were available at that time, he is the most powerful predictor and teacher of Christ.

"As I've studied Isaiah in greater depth now, I see that it's a beautiful book of allegory that can teach us great things.

"In 1 Nephi 19:23, we can read of how Nephi was struggling to teach his brethren: `And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.' "

Elder Poelman said: "One of the things that strikes me is the value of the scriptures to those who didn't always have them available. In Ezra and Nehemiah we read about the children of Israel's return from Babylon to the Holy Land. The eighth chapter of Nehemiah tells how ` . . . all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. . . .

" `And he read therein . . . and . . . all of the people were attentive unto the book of the law. . . .'

" `So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.' (Neh. 8:1, 3.)

"And then Nehemiah and Ezra taught the people, saying, `This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.' " (v. 9.)

Elder Poelman said: "This is where the feeling comes in. Those people had been deprived of the written word of the law while they were in Babylon. When they returned to Jerusalem and heard the law read to them, they were so overjoyed they wept.

"In our day, everyone can have access to the scriptures. There are two things that are so important that you may have available anytime, anywhere: scriptures and prayer. You don't have to go to a meeting, you don't have to make an appointment, you don't have to be with anybody else. You can pray anywhere, any time, in silence if you're in a public place or with your family or friends. You can read the scriptures wherever you are when you have a few moments, whether it's on a lunch break, on a bus or train commuting to work, or at home."

Elder Lybbert said: "It's important for us to remember that God gave commandments to the children of Israel to make a Zion people out of them. He intended to move faster. Because they were hard-hearted and rebellious, He gave them the law of Moses, which was a schoolmaster. It discusses virtually every thing that human beings can do that are wrong or wicked, and the consequences of them. And then, the opposite is also reviewed - the blessings and benefits that come from being obedient.

"There is a repetition that is constant. The Old Testament demonstrates that regardless of how old history is, men and women have done about the same foolish things. They've tried to resolve their difficulties by war. They've served Baal and tried idolatry. Everything in the human spectrum is pretty well outlined in that great book. It's no wonder that the Savior drew on it, because it was the only book of scriptures that was available to the people. He may have had others or knew of others, but the people on this earth didn't.

"The Old Testament is an ancient record that is of great value to us in this modern age."

Elder Poelman said: "The Lord commanded Joseph Smith to revise the Bible. If He had not thought it was pertinent for our time, He wouldn't have had the Prophet, who was already struggling with family problems, work problems, oppressive organizations, and persecution, devote so much time to the revision of the Bible. And it's to our blessing because with those revisions we can understand passages that were previously misinterpreted or misunderstood."

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