“Enrichment Section A: Who Is the God of the Old Testament,” Old Testament Student Manual Genesis-2 Samuel (1980), 44–48
“Enrichment Section A,” Old Testament Student Manual, 44–48
The hardhearted pharaoh, impudent and proud, asked, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice … ? I know not the Lord” (Exodus 5:2). Many people today are just as ignorant of the God of the Old Testament as the pharaoh was. They regard Him as a being created by the minds of the ancients, a God of wrath and low religion who would destroy people with floods and plagues. Could this be the same God as the being of love in the New Testament revealed through the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ? Others contend that the Jehovah of Old Testament times was the same as God the Father in the New Testament. Why all this confusion? Who, really, was the God of Adam, of Enoch and Abraham, of Israel and Moses?
Although for many it seems a paradox, Jehovah of the Old Testament was none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He created the world under the authority and direction of God the Father. Later, Jehovah came to earth as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. This truth is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in the history of the world, despite the fact that the Old Testament and the other standard works are filled with evidence to support it.
Before looking at the scriptural evidence, it may be wise first to better understand the names and titles for God the Father and His Only Begotten Son. Generally, two Hebrew words for God are used throughout the Old Testament. These are Elohim and Jehovah, as it is presently pronounced. (Since the original Hebrew was written without vowels, scholars disagree on the original pronunciation of the name written YHWH in Hebrew. In modern revelation, however, Jesus accepted the title Jehovah [see D&C 110:3].)
Jehovah was the premortal name-title given to the Firstborn Son of God. He is now referred to as Jesus Christ. The meaning of the name Jehovah was explained by Elder Talmage:
“Jehovah is the Anglicized rendering of the Hebrew, Yahveh or Jahveh, signifying the Self-existent One, or The Eternal. This name is generally rendered in our English version of the Old Testament as Lord printed in capitals. The Hebrew, Ehyeh, signifying I Am, is related in meaning and through derivation with the term Yahveh or Jehovah.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 36.)
The Jews regarded the name of Jehovah as so sacred that it could not be spoken. Instead, they substituted for Jehovah the word Adonai, which signifies “the Lord.” (See Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 37.) The King James translators followed the same practice out of respect for the Jewish custom. Sometimes the word lord, however, is used to refer not to God but to royalty or other important people. To distinguish the sacred name from common usage, the translators capitalized lord when it referred to Jehovah and left it in lower case letters otherwise. (See 2 Samuel 15:21 for an example of both uses of the word lord.)
The word Elohim is a plural form of the Hebrew word for God, although modern scholars agree that it should be taken as a singular noun even though the im ending is a plural form. Joseph Smith, however, indicated the significance of the plural form:
“If we pursue the Hebrew text further, it reads, … ‘The head one of the Gods said, Let us make a man in our own image.’ I once asked a learned Jew, ‘If the Hebrew language compels us to render all words ending in heim in the plural, why not render the first Eloheim plural?’ He replied, ‘That is the rule with few exceptions; but in this case it would ruin the Bible.’ He acknowledged I was right.
“In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. It is a great subject I am dwelling on. The word Eloheim ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods. The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us; and when you take [that] view of the subject, it sets one free to see all the beauty, holiness and perfection of the Gods.” (Teachings, p. 372.)
Elder James E. Talmage explained the special significance Elohim has for Latter-day Saints:
“The name Elohim … is expressive of supreme or absolute exaltation and power. Elohim, as understood and used in the restored Church of Jesus Christ, is the name-title of God the Eternal Father, whose firstborn Son in the spirit is Jehovah—the Only Begotten in the flesh, Jesus Christ.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 38.)
It is vital to remember the place of God the Father: He is the Father of our spirits (see Hebrews 12:9) and is our God. The existence of other Gods cannot alter that fact. He is the author and sponsor of the eternal plan of salvation. It is equally essential to note, however, that the agent by whom He administers His affairs on this earth is His Firstborn Son, known as Jehovah in the Old Testament. He gave Jesus the full “Fatherly” authority to organize and govern the earth, then through the Atonement Jesus became the Father of the faithful. The Savior thus became the chief advocate of the Father’s plan.
Because Jesus is one with God and is also God, the Old Testament prophets sometimes referred to Him as “Jehovah Elohim,” which the King James translators rendered “Lord God.” To avoid awkward repetition, “Lord God” was used to translate the Hebrew phrase “Adonai Jehovah,” which otherwise would translate as “Lord Lord” (see Genesis 15:2, 8; Deuteronomy 3:24). Thus, in the King James Version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for Jehovah is almost always translated just this way: Lord or God.
One other name or title of Jesus needs explanation. He is known as Jesus the Christ. The word Christ comes from the Greek word christos, which means “the anointed one.” The Greeks used the title Christos to translate the Hebrew word meshiach, which means “the anointed one.” The Hebrew word has been anglicized into messiah. Jesus the Christ means “Jesus the Messiah.”
There was confusion in the minds of the later Jews, Jesus’ own people, regarding the identity of their God because they no longer understood their own scriptures. That is likewise the problem today with most of the Christian world. The mystery of understanding the identity of the God of the Old Testament arose in both cases because of wickedness and the loss of many plain and precious truths from the scriptures. By contrast, Jesus said that life eternal consisted of gaining a full knowledge of the Father and the Son (see John 17:3). In the final analysis the individual comes to know the true God through experiences that train him to be like Him, and thus he understands, or knows, Him (see 1 John 2:3; 3:1–2; Ether 2–3).
By the time Christ came, the Jews had lost the knowledge of the three distinct members of the Godhead. They had lost the truth that Jehovah, who had given them the law of Moses, would come into the world as the Redeemer of all mankind, even though the prophets had clearly taught this principle (see 1 Corinthians 10:4; 3 Nephi 15:10; Isaiah 41:14; 44:6). They yearned for the appearance of the promised Messiah as a political savior to free them from Roman rule. But Matthew testified that John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, was “he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, … Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). This is a reference to Isaiah 40:3, where the word Lord is used to mean Jehovah. Christ Himself told the Jews in Jerusalem that “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The people considered this blasphemy and picked up stones to kill Him, because they realized that His using the phrase I am in this way was another way of saying “I am Jehovah” (see v. 59).
Abinadi, testifying before the court of the wicked King Noah, bore witness that all the prophets from the earliest times had testified that God (Jehovah) would “come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man” (Mosiah 13:34; see also v. 33). Latter-day Saints, who have the benefit of additional scripture, are taught this truth very clearly. For example, the Doctrine and Covenants shows that Jesus Christ is Jehovah and the great “I Am” (see D&C 110:3–4; 29:1).
But many in the Christian world have not carefully considered the evidence found in the Bible, which clearly teaches that Jehovah is the premortal Jesus. The following scriptures are only a sampling of the biblical evidence. (Remember that Lord means that Jehovah is the Hebrew word used.)
“Thus saith the Lord, … I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded” (Isaiah 45:11–12).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1, 3.)
“Yet I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me” (Hosea 13:4).
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
“Thus saith the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 43:14).
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13).
“I [Jehovah] will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14).
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22.)
“And I [Jehovah] will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. … For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.” (John 19:34, 36–37.)
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: he took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:21–22).
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1–4).
“For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called” (Isaiah 54:5).
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” (Revelation 19:7–8.)
“Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).
Many people, including numerous Bible scholars, have concluded that the God depicted in the Old Testament was the product of the superstitions and primitive beliefs of a primitive and superstitious people. They come to this conclusion because they see things that seem contradictory to their conception of the God of the New Testament. To know that the Lord of the Old Testament was the premortal Jesus Christ has tremendous implications, however, not only for a correct understanding of the Old Testament and the New Testament, but also for a correct understanding of the nature and purposes of God and of man’s relationship to each member of the Godhead.
For example, the same Person who said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), said of the Canaanites in the land of promise, “Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: but thou shalt utterly destroy them” (Deuteronomy 20:16–17). The same Savior who said to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22) destroyed the entire population of the earth with the exception of eight souls (see Genesis 7–8).
On the other hand, the Jesus of the New Testament who said that one who refuses to forgive another’s trespasses will be “delivered … to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due” (Matthew 18:34–35) is the Lord of the Old Testament who said, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). And the Christ depicted in the book of Revelation, who is shown with the great sickle ready to reap the grapes of the earth and tread them in the winepress (see Revelation 14:14, 20), is the same God of the Old Testament who said to Micah, “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
There is no inconsistency in the nature of God. He is always perfectly merciful and loving, but He is also perfectly just and will not “look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). As He said to Joseph Smith, “God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, … his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round” (D&C 3:2). In the Old Testament is the same perfectly consistent God found in all scripture. In the Old Testament great richness is added to the understanding of God and how He deals with His children, blessing them according to their obedience and receptivity, or punishing them for rebellion and wickedness. If one would get to know Christ better, one must study the Old Testament, for in His role as Jehovah He permeates the whole record. Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament just as He is the God of the earth today. Keeping this important fact constantly in mind is one of the keys to understanding both the Old Testament and the nature of God.