Beginning in January, Latter-day Saints worldwide will delve into thousands of years of history in the Old Testament as they study the dispensations of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses.
They will read about God’s covenant people and what He taught His prophets as they looked forward to the coming of Jehovah.
To many, the Old Testament may seem complex and the verbiage can be intimidating. But Sunday School General President Mark L. Pace is confident that, with the help of “Come, Follow Me,” Latter-day Saints can learn more from the Old Testament next year than perhaps they ever have before.
“For me and for many Latter-day Saints, this will be our finest year of study of the Old Testament — ever,” President Pace said in a recent Church News interview.
“When you think about how the Savior taught of the scriptures, He was teaching of the Old Testament. When Nephi got the brass plates, he got the history of the Old Testament. What a blessing that will be for us to read that this year.”
To help Latter-day Saints with their upcoming study of the Old Testament, the Sunday School general presidency suggested three ways to approach it: Look for Christ, understand context and find personal meaning.
1. Look for Christ
Throughout the writings of ancient prophets and others, the Old Testament witnesses of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His gospel.
“I think the invitation for the Latter-day Saints looking forward to 2022, as we read the Old Testament, is to look for symbols and teachings and themes of Jesus Christ,” President Pace said. “The prophets taught of Him, and as the covenant people followed the prophets, they were blessed.”
Listen to the Sunday School general presidency talk about ‘Come, Follow Me’ 2022 on the Church News podcast
The prophets’ teachings preserved in the Old Testament can strengthen all who read and ponder them, he continued. “The Holy Ghost will bear testimony to us, will change our hearts, will convert us and be a wonderful blessing to us this coming year.”
For Brother Milton Camargo, first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, the Old Testament is a testimony that God has communicated with His children since the beginning.
“If He talked to Moses, to Abraham, to Adam and all of the others, He can talk to us today. He can talk to me. He can talk to our Prophet today,” Brother Camargo said. “So for me, the Old Testament is a testimony that God is the same, that He revealed His will to His children and He continues to do this today.”
Ancient Israel was a people of covenant, and “we are the covenant people today,” he explained. “What matters is if we decide and choose to follow the Lord and follow the prophet of God on the earth today.”
Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, admitted that he used to be somewhat fearful of studying the Old Testament because of its complexities.
“What I have found is, if we will read the words and not be intimidated by them, but look forward to learning the truth of the Lord, that He’ll guide us through those. And as we seek to understand and see the Savior in the writings of the Old Testament, it will be a great blessing,” he said.
In the Old Testament and other books of scripture, “we see the pattern of the hand of the Lord in the lives of His children,” Brother Newman said. “When I think about ancient Israel, I try to understand how He worked with him. And then I think about today how He works with us, and it’s the same. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
2. Understand context
Throughout the Old Testament “Come, Follow Me” manual for individuals and families is a new section titled “Thoughts To Keep in Mind.” These entries provide historical context and thematic help throughout the course of study. Topics include the Abrahamic covenant, the House of Israel, the Tabernacle and poetry in the Old Testament.
“These are a page or two that provide insights and understanding of the Old Testament for an audience that is not as familiar with the Old Testament as we are with other books of scripture,” President Pace said. “This is something that’s brand new in ‘Come, Follow Me’ this year, which I think will be a real blessing to us all.”
Unlike the previous three years, the Old Testament “Come, Follow Me” does not suggest reading every chapter. Instead, suggestions are provided for reading and learning from the most helpful chapters and stories of the Old Testament. Those who desire to read the entire book can still do so.
“The study of the Old Testament is broken down into more bite-size, manageable pieces that you can read, that you can study, that you can reread, that you can ponder, and not be overwhelmed by the reading assignment for the week,” President Pace noted.
Brother Newman added: “We need to make sure that we don’t just read what’s in ‘Come, Follow Me,’ that we actually get into the scriptures themselves. And I would just promise the members that if they do that, the Spirit will teach them and guide them through their journey.”
3. Discover your own ‘gems’
While recently reading the account of Ruth and Naomi, Brother Camargo was reminded of how Old Testament stories can apply today.
“Why did Ruth decide to go with Naomi and the other sister-in-law decided not to go?” Brother Camargo asked. “We know her answer. She said: ‘Wherever you go, I’ll go. Your God is my God.’ That’s what touched me. She got a conversion to the real God of Israel. … The story later showed that her example of following the true God of Israel helped her in her challenge.”
Brother Camargo said he is looking forward to reading more Old Testament stories and finding deeper meaning. “I hope members also will do that, that as they read the book, the Old Testament, they see, ‘Wow, that is totally applicable to my situation today.’ And they can strengthen their faith, they can be elevated.”
A verse that has been meaningful to President Pace throughout his life is Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” These were the Lord’s words to Abraham and Sarah as He promised them they would have children in their old age.
“As my life has gone on, through experiences as a young man, as a missionary, and marriage and family, and throughout my life, [I’ve learned that] challenges are with us. Difficulties are with us … and it’s been my experience that nothing is too hard for the Lord,” President Pace said.
“Those sorts of little scripture gems are all over in the Old Testament and will be a great blessing to us as we’re thoughtful and careful in our reading this coming year.”
As President Pace prepares to study the Old Testament next year, he said he is excited to “spend time with old friends.”
“My study of the Old Testament next year is going to be better than it’s ever been in my whole life. My experience with old friends is going to be sweet and delightful, and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.