Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Reading the Old Testament


“Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Reading the Old Testament,” Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Old Testament 2022 (2021)

“Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Reading the Old Testament,” Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: 2022

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Biblical Scroll

Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Reading the Old Testament

Find Personal Meaning

When you consider your opportunity to study the Old Testament this year, how do you feel? Eager? Uncertain? Afraid? All of those emotions are understandable. The Old Testament is one of the oldest collections of writings in the world, and that can make it both exciting and intimidating. These writings come from an ancient culture that can seem foreign and sometimes strange or even uncomfortable. And yet in these writings we see people having experiences that seem familiar, and we recognize gospel themes that witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Yes, people like Abraham, Sarah, Hannah, and Daniel lived lives that, in some ways, were very different from ours. But they also experienced family joy and family discord, moments of faith and moments of uncertainty, and successes and failures—like all of us do. More importantly, they exercised faith, repented, made covenants, had spiritual experiences, and never gave up in their efforts to obey God.

If you wonder whether you and your family can find personal meaning in the Old Testament this year, keep in mind that Lehi and Sariah’s family did. Nephi shared stories about Moses and teachings from Isaiah when his brothers needed encouragement or correction or perspective. When Nephi said, “My soul delighteth in the scriptures” (2 Nephi 4:15), he was talking about scriptures that are now part of the Old Testament.

Seek the Savior

If you wonder whether you and your family can come closer to Jesus Christ through studying the Old Testament, keep in mind that the Savior Himself invites us to do so. When He told the leaders of the Jews, “The scriptures … testify of me” (John 5:39), He was talking about the writings we call the Old Testament. To find the Savior in what you read, you may need to ponder patiently and seek spiritual guidance. Sometimes the references to Him seem very direct, as in Isaiah’s declaration “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: … and his name shall be called … The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In other places, the Savior is represented more subtly, through symbols and similarities—for example, through the descriptions of animal sacrifices (see Leviticus 1:3–4) or the account of Joseph forgiving his brothers and saving them from famine.

If you seek greater faith in the Savior as you study the Old Testament, you will find it. Perhaps this could be the aim of your study this year. Pray that the Spirit will guide you to find and focus on passages, stories, and prophecies that will bring you closer to Jesus Christ.

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Old Testament Prophet

Old Testament Prophet, Judith A. Mehr

Divinely Preserved

Don’t expect the Old Testament to present a thorough and precise history of humankind. That’s not what the original authors and compilers were trying to create. Their larger concern was to teach something about God—about His plan for His children, about what it means to be His covenant people, and about how to find redemption when we don’t live up to our covenants. Sometimes they did it by relating historical events as they understood them—including stories from the lives of great prophets. Genesis is an example of this, as are books like Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Kings. But other Old Testament writers did not aim to be historical at all. Instead, they taught through works of art like poetry and literature. The Psalms and the Proverbs fit in this category. And then there are the precious words of prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, who spoke the word of God to ancient Israel—and, through the miracle of the Bible, still speak to us today.

Did all of these prophets, poets, and compilers know that their words would be read by people all over the world thousands of years later? We don’t know. But we marvel that this is exactly what has happened. Nations rose and fell, cities were conquered, kings lived and died; but the Old Testament outlasted them all, from generation to generation, from scribe to scribe, from translation to translation. Of course some things were lost or modified, and yet somehow so much was miraculously preserved.1

These are just a few things to keep in mind as you read the Old Testament this year. Maybe God preserved these ancient writings because He knows you and what you are going through. Maybe He has prepared a spiritual message for you in these words, something that will draw you closer to Him and build your faith in His plan and His Beloved Son. Perhaps He will lead you to a passage or an insight that will bless someone you know—a message you can share with a friend, a family member, or a fellow Saint. There are so many possibilities. Isn’t that exciting to think about?

Books in the Old Testament

In most Christian versions of the Old Testament, the books are organized differently from how they were arranged when they were first compiled into one collection. So while the Hebrew Bible groups the books into three categories—the law, prophets, and writings—most Christian Bibles arrange the books into four categories: law (Genesis–Deuteronomy), history (Joshua–Esther), poetic books (Job–Song of Solomon), and prophets (Isaiah–Malachi).

Why are these categories important? Because knowing what kind of book you are studying can help you understand how to study it.

Here’s something to keep in mind as you begin reading “the law,” or the first five books of the Old Testament. These books, which are attributed to Moses, probably passed through the hands of numerous scribes and compilers over time. Still, the books of Moses are the inspired word of God, even though they are—like any work of God transmitted through mortals—subject to human imperfections (see Moses 1:41; Articles of Faith 1:8). The words of Moroni, referring to the sacred Book of Mormon record that he helped compile, are helpful here: “If there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God” (title page of the Book of Mormon). In other words, a book of scripture need not be free from human error in order to be the word of God.

Note

  1. President M. Russell Ballard said: “It is not by chance or coincidence that we have the Bible today. Righteous individuals were prompted by the Spirit to record both the sacred things they saw and the inspired words they heard and spoke. Other devoted people were prompted to protect and preserve these records” (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 80).