A treasure of great worth

The Old Testament once again is the focus of the curriculum of the Church, giving us another opportunity to get better acquainted with this beloved, but challenging, volume of scripture.

In the course of a wondrous vision, Nephi saw the early colonists in America, and a book which was "carried forth among them." (See 1 Ne. 13:20.) The angel instructing Nephi told him:"The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles." (1 Ne. 13:23.)

The Old Testament is of great worth to us. It provides an account of the creation and the fall. It is a record of the Lord's dealings with His people from the time of Adam down to the return of Judah to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon. As the angel said, the record contains the Lord's covenants with Israel. It preserves for us many of the sacred writings of the prophets who labored among them.

We should read and study the Old Testament. It is accepted by the Church as scripture and as one of its standard works. This, alone, is reason enough to proceed.

We should read this book because it is a witness of Jesus Christ. It will add to our understanding of His earthly mission and the Atonement. This was the central message of the prophets, and it is essential to our understanding of the Old Testament.

The Savior Himself attached great importance to the Old Testament during His ministry. He quoted from it extensively, particularly from the Pentateuch (the first five books), the Psalms and Isaiah.

Another major reason for our study is that spiritual strength will result. We will be better prepared to deal with the trials and challenges of mortality. Great peace will come to our souls.

Much has been said in the past about the intimidating size of this volume, its seemingly endless genealogies, and its confusing language. These are potential barriers we will encounter. But ordinary members of the Church who have read the book have learned that the key is to continue on, even without a full understanding of the text.

Selected chapters and verses in the Book of Mormon and the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price are windows to our understanding of the Book of Genesis. The reader should also give careful attention to Joseph Smith's work of translation, as represented in the footnotes of the LDS edition of the Bible, and the more detailed entries in the back of that edition.

Our capacity to understand is enhanced when we break up this massive volume into smaller segments. For example, five gospel dispensations are represented in the Old Testament, those of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses. The first four are treated briefly in Genesis, much of which is concerned with Abraham.

The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy cover the time of Moses, and much of the remainder of the Old Testament is tied to that dispensation, nearly a thousand years. This period includes Israel's conquest of the land of promise (Book of Joshua), the period of the Judges (Book of Judges, early part of 1 Samuel), the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon in Israel (1 Samuel and 2 Samuel and first half of 1 Kings), the divided kingdom (second half of 1 Kings and all of 2 Kings), the exile of Judah (Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther), and the return of Judah to Jerusalem (Ezra and Nehemiah).

The books of the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, contain their prophecies to Israel and Judah during the time of the divided kingdom and the return of Judah.

Finally, it will be most important for members of the Church to approach their study of the Old Testament thoughtfully and prayerfully, pondering frequently over its truths. In this way, new understanding will come, as will a renewing witness of the Spirit. Things of the Spirit are known through the Spirit.

A sincere, determined effort not only to read, but to understand and have a witness of the truths found in the Old Testament will be an experience of great worth to the Latter-day Saints.

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