Turning nation of bondsmen into kingdom of priests

The Lord performed seemingly endless miracles on behalf of the children of Israel, demonstrating His concern and willingness to bestow upon them great blessings. Temporal blessings and spiritual food He provided through such acts as causing the sea to part so they could leave Egypt in safety, sending His angel before Israel by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide and reassure them in their wilderness journey, and raining manna from heaven to feed them.

With such nurturing, the children of Israel had an opportunity to become a "kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:5-6), but they failed to keep the law of the gospel. In its place, they were given the Mosaic Law.In one of his books, The Mortal Messiah, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve wrote: "Many of the great and eternal truths of the gospel remained and were the rock foundation upon which the law was built. . . . but under the law of Moses severe penalties were added for disobedience. The element of fear as well as of love became a dominant incentive in doing the things that must be done if salvation is to be won.

"Under the law of the gospel men are commanded to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. If they keep this commandment, they are blessed; if they heed it not, the promised blessings pass them by. But under the law of Moses a penalty was added for dishonoring the Sabbath, and that penalty was death. Extreme? Severe? So it would seem to us, but the Lord was taking a nation of bondsmen and slaves and turning them into kings and priests. It required strict obedience to His laws, and the sooner the rebels were sloughed off the sooner the whole nation would walk in paths of righteousness.

"There are, in fact, a great host of offenses, set forth primarily in Exodus and Leviticus, for which the law decreed either excommunication or death as the penalty. Israelites were excommunicated, for instance, for eating any manner of fat from oxen, sheep, or goats, or for eating the blood of birds or beasts. The death penalty was imposed for murder, adultery, and various sexual perversions; . . . for blasphemy, witchcraft, and sacrificing to false gods; even those who either cursed or smote father or mother. . . .

"An illustration of the severity with which the divine decrees were applied anciently is seen in the slaying of Nadab and Abihu by the Lord. There went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them,' the account says, because they offeredstrange fire' upon the altar; that is, these sons of Aaron performed a sacrificial ordinance of their own devising. (Lev. 10:1-2.)

"The contrast between the benevolent influence exerted by Christianity and the severe near-compulsion of the law of Moses is nowhere better illustrated than in the sayings of Jesus. Coming as He did to lift Israel from the level of the law to the high standard of the gospel, it was our Lord's wont to say Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time,' such and such,But I say unto you,' this and this. . . . In place of the ancient law, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' he counseled,That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.' And the Mosaic standard, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy' becameLove your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' " (Matt. 5.)

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