Introduction to the Old Testament
A few years ago while visiting with a member of our ward, I happened to mention my excitement about some study I had been doing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) recorded in Leviticus 16. She looked horrified as I began to share my discoveries regarding the symbolic use of the two goats on ancient Israel’s most holy day. The fact that one goat was sacrificed was abhorrent to her sensitivities. My friend expressed that she viewed the Old Testament as a terrifying book about a terrible (and “thankfully past)” time in the earth’s history. She seemed deeply troubled about the Lord’s commandments in the Law of Moses specifically. She could not understand how a loving God would require such behavior, which, in her eyes, was nothing but wasteful and cruel. In the course of our conversation she stated that she had quit studying her scriptures. I have always remembered one of her comments: “Why doesn’t the Lord just come out and tell us what to do instead of giving us page after page of gory ancient history?”
As I left my conversation that day, I contemplated the decidedly different feelings my friend and I had about the Old Testament. Her feelings and concerns were logical. I had experienced similar questions and wonderings myself. Yet, my recent study had been opening up new worlds for me. Most striking of all to me was the frequency of Christ-centered insights that poured into my soul. I had not seen the Savior so much in these historical passages before. Again, why was I getting Christ out of the same book that my friend was so violently opposed to?
Then I remembered that I had been consistently asking for this to happen in prayer. Unlike previous attempts, this time I had been making a concentrated effort to allow the Spirit to become my teacher by specifically asking the Lord to be my teacher. Simple, but incredibly effective-I literally asked the Lord to guide me as I read. It was working. This time, under the Spirit’s tutelage, the normally oblique words on the pages seemed to come alive. They spoke volumes to my yearning understanding. A strange kinship with ancient Israel commenced as their history was beginning to materialize in the theater of my mind. Scene after scene began to play upon my mental stage-each with growing familiarity and increasingly poignant power. I was finally beginning to receive this book as a witness of Jesus Christ. It was marvelous. It is still marvelous!
Of course, these experiences did not, and have not, answered every Old Testament question I have. Those answers await further study and revelation. But I am more joyfully appreciating this collection of the initial chapters in the Lord’s unfolding saga of salvation. The book, for me, has become one my most prized possessions. Truly the Old Testament can and does illuminate and testify of the character and mission of Jesus Christ-the Redeemer of Israel and Savior of the world.
Jesus is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament
A classic over-generalization of the Bible is to say that the God of the Old Testament is unpleasantly strict and severe, while the Lord Jesus in the New Testament is nothing but caring and compassionate. Some question whether there might be two Gods operating in the Bible-the Father in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New; or maybe that Jehovah’s personality softened when he experienced mortality as Jesus.
However, both ancient and modern revelations declare that Jesus is Jehovah-the same God who gave Moses the Ten Commandments also broke bread with the apostles at the Last Supper.
In fact, the name “Jehovah” means “Unchangeable One” (LDS Bible Dictionary, 710). The Lord himself declared, “Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course in one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever. I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name” (D&C 35:1-2). Also, “I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me. I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom; and verity, I say, even as many as have believed in my name, for I am Christ, and in mine own name, by the virtue of the blood which I have spilt, have I pleaded before the Father for them” (D&C 38:3-4; see also 3 Nephi 11:10, 14).
Another writer has marshaled helpful evidence of Jehovah’s true and consistent personality attested to in both the Old and New Testaments. “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)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis-2 Samuel, 1981, 48). Other examples of the sameness of Jehovah’s character could be multiplied (see also D&C 76:1-11).
Consider the significance of this fact for our development and exercise of faith in God. Joseph Smith clearly detailed the requirements to have “faith in God unto life and salvation” as “first, the idea that he [God] actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. [And] Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will” (Lectures on Faith, Deseret Book, 1985, 38). Thus the only way to have productive faith is know God (see John 7:17). In this way, “to know that the Lord of the Old Testament was the premortal Jesus Christ has tremendous implications … [and] 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” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis-2 Samuel, 1981, 48). Though imperfect and incomplete, nevertheless the Old Testament is an amazingly helpful history of the Savior’s ancient dealings with man that sheds precious perspective on the nature of God (see Article of Faith 1:8).
Background to the Book of Moses
The book of Moses is a product of direct revelation from the Lord to Joseph Smith. We naturally assume that Moses wrote the words of this book (Moses 1:23), however, Joseph was not in possession of that record, and hence did not translate’ the book (unlike the Book of Mormon plates and the papyri of Abraham and Joseph obtained from M. Chandler’s sarcophagi). Very soon after the Church was organized, Joseph received revelations and instructions concerning a translation’ (technically a revision) of the King James Bible (see LDS Bible Dictionary, 717).
During this time the Saints were subjected to severe persecution. “At one time a mob of about fifty men assembled, intending to harm the Prophet. On another occasion, Joseph was arrested on a charge of being a disorderly person. He was taken to a tavern where he was abused and ridiculed by men who spat upon him saying, Prophesy, prophesy,’ ignorantly imitating those who had crucified the Savior of the world (see Luke 22:64). Twice he was subjected to court trials in front of a multitude of spectators who were convinced of his guilt and anxious for maximum punishment to be meted out. After two acquittals, he was released, but the hateful mobs continued to hinder the work” (H. Donl Peterson, The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary, 1987, 27).
The Lord revealed to the Prophet the book of Moses in the midst of these afflictions (June 1830). Joseph records, “I will say, however, that amid all the trials and tribulations we had to wade through, the Lord who well knew our infantile and delicate situation, vouchsafed for us a supply of strength, and granted us “line upon line of knowledge-here a little and there a little,” of which the following [the book of Moses] was a precious morsel” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol.1:98). Little wonder the Lord chose to reveal the book of Moses to Joseph, it details some of the most remarkable visions in holy writ, along with the key to overcoming the temptations and influence of Satan.
“Behold, Thou Art My Son” (Moses 1:1-11)
Sometime after the burning bush and before the Exodus (see Moses 1:17, 25-26), Moses was spirited up to “an exceedingly high mountain,” where he received two visions from God and one visitation from Satan. Here the Lord introduced Himself, declaring to Moses: “thou art my son” (Moses 1:4), and further clarified that Moses was “in the similitude of [the] Only Begotten” (1:6). What comfort and inspiration! In fact, this knowledge would be particularly sweet to one like Moses who had been estranged from his biological family for most of his life. The prophet was then shown the other children of God from the time of Adam and Eve until the “ends thereof” (Moses 1:8). The Lord then departed, allowing Moses time to contemplate and process what he’d learned from the experience.
Who appeared to Moses? It was Jehovah, Jesus Christ. “It should be remembered that it was Christ before he was in the flesh who gave the law and the commandments to Moses, and who spoke for the Father, as He explained to the Nephites when he appeared to them after his resurrection. (3 Nephi 15:5) he was in the beginning with God and was God’ according to John 1:1. The Father was represented by Him and He acted and spoke for the Father, in the creation and from that time forward in all the divine dispensations” (The First Presidency: Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, in James R. Clark, comp.Messages of the First Presidency, 4:271).
Further, “all revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. In all of the scriptures, where God is mentioned and where he has appeared, it was Jehovah who talked with Abraham, with Noah, Enoch, Moses and all the prophets…. The Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:27; both quotes cited in The Pearl of Great Price, 73-74). This ability and authority of the Savior to speak as if He were the Father is defined by the First Presidency as “divine investiture of authority” (see James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, 421; citing a First Presidency statement dated in 1916).
If we are children of God, then why do other passages in scripture speak of us still needing to become the sons and daughters of God? (See John 1:12; 3 Nephi 9:17; Moroni 7:26, 48; D&C 11:30; 34:3; 35:2; 45:8; and Moses 6:68-7:1). In the literal sense, we are the spirit “offspring” of God (Acts 17:28).
Yet, in the spiritual sense, through our own “falls,” we have become natural men and women (Mosiah 3:19; see also Moses 5:13 which explains that it is only when we believe and follow Satan that we become “carnal, sensual, and devilish”). As such, we need to be changed from our sinful and fallen state, a process symbolically titled “rebirth” (see John 3:1-8). This re-creation is accomplished by the Spirit upon our humble and faithful compliance with divine directives such as obedience to commandments and participation in ordinances (see Moses 6:64-68 and 2 Nephi 31:13-14).
King Benjamin’s people underwent such a change when they received the covenant of Christ and were specifically told “and now because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you… ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). Our mortal quest is to not just survive this life as natural (spirit) descendents of our Heavenly Father, but it is to become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) through our faithful following of “him who did no sin” (D&C 45:4).
“Get Thee Hence, Satan” (Moses 12-23)
Moses recognized the greatness of God partly through his own nothingness (Moses 1:10-11). After receiving his natural strength again, Moses was visited by Satan who tempted him. Notice his subtle salutation: “Moses, son of man” (Moses 1:12). Yet, the Lord’s earlier declaration fortified the prophet and he responded: “Who are thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten” (Moses 1:13). Lesson learned. Further, Moses could detect that there was a quality to the person of Satan that lacked the power of God’s presence. “Where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13). Moses resists the devil’s insidious call to worship him and calls upon the Lord to cast Satan away from him. Moses wisely recorded his experience, though it is not found in the Bible.
What is different about the Lord’s and Satan’s countenance? Moses noticed that Satan’s appearance was “darkness” while the Lord was so full of “glory” that Moses had to be “transfigured before him” in order to behold (Moses 1:14-15).
We know that Satan can appear as an “angel of light” as he sought to disrupt the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood (see D&C 128:20). Also, Joseph informs us that angels of the devil can appear in such a way that detection is difficult without utilizing a key piece of knowledge gleaned from revelation and quite possibly the prophet’s own experiences (see D&C 129). Moses tells the key to accurate detection. “[God’s] Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me… and I can judge between thee and God” (Moses 1:15; also v. 18). Elsewhere Moroni declares that the light of Christ will illuminate the difference between good and evil (Moroni 7:13-18) and Section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants states that messages from evil spirits are hard to understand (D&C 50:15) while those from the Lord’s Spirit are understandable and cause edification and rejoicing (D&C 50:22).
We learn of the power of the name of Christ from Moses’ attempts to cast Satan out. Once Moses learned that Satan was the imposter he endeavored to rid himself of the evil presence. He was unsuccessful on three tries! (Moses 1:16, 18, 20) What is striking about this is that Satan kept getting more and more agitated but did not leave. It was only when Moses invoked the name of Christ, the “Only Begotten” that he was free from the presence and influence of the devil (Moses 1:21-22). Some time ago, Elder Smith from the Asian Area Presidency addressed a group of missionaries and noted that occasionally the presence of an evil spirit was the cause of especially persistence evil thoughts.
He advised those present to pray unto the Father, in the name of Christ, to have the evil influence removed so that higher thoughts could be maintained. He said this could be done in public with a silent plea or out loud if in private. He stressed, as the scriptures amply testify, that no power on or in the earth is greater than the Savior’s; therefore, if we call upon Him with faith on his name we will receive the needed freedom from evil spirits. I can attest to the virtue of Christ’s power in this regard and have always been grateful for that council.
“Behold, This is My Work and My Glory”
Having passed the test, Moses was privileged to receive further revelation from the Lord culminating in another “face to face” visitation (Moses 1:31). The Lord called him to be a prophet and “deliver my people from bondage, even Israel my chosen” (Moses 1:26). To do this, the Lord promised to make Moses “stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God” (Moses 1:25). This was dramatically fulfilled on at least four occasions during the Exodus. First, during the plagues of Egypt, Moses was given the power to poison the Nile (Exodus 7:20). Again, Moses was given the power to part the Red Sea, allowing Israel to cross while trapping their pursuers (Exodus 14:21). Later Moses was privileged to heal the poisonous waters at Marah (Exodus 15:25). Finally, Moses was blessed to produce water from a rock when Israel thirsted in the wilderness (Numbers 20:8-11).
Moses was again shown the history of the earth, as well as all its particles! (Moses 1:27-29). This time Moses posed two great questions to the Lord: “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what power thou madest them?” (Moses 1:30). Reminiscent of the Brother of Jared (see Ether 3:10), it is quite possible that the faith and desire of these two prophets to ask questions invited the Lord to show himself unto them. The Lord’s reply to Moses carries the most profound answers to the purposes of this earth’s and other world’s existence, as well as, insight into our eternal potential as God’s children.
- We learn with Moses that there are other worlds, numberless to us, but known to God with “other sons and daughters, perhaps just as good as those dwelling on this planet, and they, as well as we, will be visited, and they will be made glad with the countenance of their Lord” (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 17:332; see also D&C 88:45-61). These all have the same plan and the same Savior as we do (see Joseph Smith’s poetic rendering of D&C 76 in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1, 1843, 82).
- What is the Lord’s purpose in peopling these worlds, including ours? It is that each may have the chance to attain what our heavenly progenitors have already, in similar fashion, achieved! “Here, then, is eternal life [not simply immortality]-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be God’s yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346-47).
Praise be to Moses who first learned this for himself and to Joseph Smith through who God has revealed it again in our day! But greatest praise of all to the Father and the Son who have and are providing all that is needed for our eternal progression.