I love reading the Old Testament. Over the years, I have discovered two keys to look for in the Old Testament to bring joy and increase understanding: Christ and covenants.
Here are some ways we can find Christ and covenants in our study of the Old Testament this year.
Nephi, who read the scriptures from the brass plates, said, “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4).
We can find Jesus Christ in the Old Testament in many ways.
Because we know through modern revelation that Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament (see Doctrine and Covenants 110:3–4), we can see His power in the Creation and as the Lawgiver on Mount Sinai teaching Israel how to become like God. We learn of His grace in the redemption from bondage in Egypt, His love in caring for His people in the wilderness and delivering them to the promised land, and His continued concern by sending prophets and offering forgiveness to Israel as they repented of their sins.
There are many types (or representations) of Jesus Christ in the stories of the Old Testament, many of which foreshadow His future coming as recorded in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. The story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows God the Father sacrificing His Son, Jesus Christ. Joseph saved his brethren from physical starvation, just as Jesus Christ saves us from spiritual starvation. Moses freed his people from slavery as Jesus frees us from sin. The Lord taught the children of Israel the power of faith in Him and His Atonement in the story of the brass serpent in the wilderness. Elijah and Elisha exemplified the Savior as they healed the sick and raised the dead.
Jesus Christ is symbolically in the stories in the Old Testament and the law of Moses. The stories of Passover and sacrifice in the law of Moses point to Christ. Foreshadowing Jesus’s mission, the prophets in the Old Testament healed the sick and raised the dead. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised us a “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31; see also verse 32).
In the New Testament, Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the law and the prophets in the Old Testament. He delivered the new covenant in the Sermon on the Mount and instituted the symbols of the covenant during the Passover meal at the Last Supper. Jesus taught us to love and serve each other as He healed the sick and raised the dead. He redeemed us from sin and death through His Atonement, and He established His Church on the earth. When we recognize Jesus as the God of the Old Testament, we can better understand Him in the New Testament.
Nephi also taught us to look for covenants in the scriptures: “And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” (2 Nephi 11:5).
President Russell M. Nelson has also emphasized the importance of covenants. He said: “The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter.”1
What an amazing promise! Even after being baptized and making temple covenants, we may not realize just how significantly these promises can impact our everyday lives for the better. But the Old Testament reminds us what it truly means to be a “covenant people” and how we can better understand the blessings and responsibilities that come with it.
The main covenant mentioned in the Old Testament is the Abrahamic covenant. We can find truths about the gospel of Jesus Christ in this covenant, which leads us to Jesus Christ, in whom we find salvation.
Here are some ways that the Old Testament helps us better understand and keep our covenants.
The Abrahamic covenant was a series of promises and blessings given to Abraham that continue to this day in the “new and everlasting covenant” restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:30–31). President Nelson taught:
“The Lord appeared in these latter days to renew that Abrahamic covenant. To the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Master declared:
“‘Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, … my servant Joseph. …
Through this covenant, the Lord created a righteous family where He could teach His gospel and bring His children to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul taught us that if we come to Christ, we become part of Abraham’s family: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29; see also verse 27). Through the Abrahamic covenant, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints become the house of Israel and heirs to the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.
We can learn about our role in the covenant by examining the lives of those in the Old Testament, by studying the promises made by the Lord to His children in the commandments, and by listening to the ancient prophets who pleaded with the children of Israel to repent and obey their covenants.
As we read the Old Testament, we can look for indications of the Lord upholding the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant. The three most prominent blessings are land, which symbolizes an inheritance in Heavenly Father’s kingdom; posterity, which is a promise of eternal increase; and blessings of the gospel and the priesthood, “which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” (Abraham 2:11).
Abraham was promised that through his seed “shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). This meant that Jesus Christ would come into the world through Abraham’s lineage and bless all the nations of the earth through His Atonement and Resurrection (see Galatians 3:16).
What blessings do you see in your life today because of the Abrahamic covenant?
Along with blessings, being part of the Abrahamic covenant includes certain responsibilities. Through studying the Old Testament, we learn how to live up to our covenants. As the family of Abraham, members of the Church are called to gather Israel. When we participate in missionary work, ministering, temple work, Church callings, and teaching and raising our families, we are gathering Israel by bringing others closer to Christ.
President Nelson taught, “Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel.”3
This year as you read the Old Testament for our Come, Follow Me study, you can learn to love its teachings by following Nephi’s example of looking for these two themes: Christ and covenants. In doing so, you can better understand Jesus Christ, His Atonement, and His gospel. You can also learn more about the “new and everlasting covenant” and your role in it as a disciple of Christ and as a member of the house of Israel.
The stories and teachings in the Old Testament can help us deepen our relationship with the Savior and our understanding and commitment to our own covenants.