Some persons believe that the Old Testament teaches and demonstrates some rather crude theological concepts and ethics. This may seem logical to those who believe that religions are mere social institutions that have evolved and developed over the centuries. But to those who see religion as revealed theology and a divine code of ethics with absolute truths and eternal rights and wrongs, such an estimate of the Old Testament is neither logical nor acceptable.
“Bad examples” do exist among the characters of the Old Testament and are found there simply because there have always been bad as well as good people and practices. Certainly the writers of biblical records were very frank about people and deeds, good and bad. In a way, these accounts are disheartening, but on the other hand they enhance the credibility of the whole biblical account. The writers truthfully told both the vices and the virtues of heroes and villains, people and kings, prophets and priests.
In some cases wherein evil deeds were done, the writers pointed out immediately the bad results that came from not following the ways of the Lord. In other cases, results and reactions were recorded months or even years later, as they became apparent. Naturally, readers of single episodes do not always discover such accounts of delayed consequences. Even researchers sometimes fail to follow through and discover whether the end of the tale is told farther on; as a result, they may make wrong judgments.
The story of violence committed by Levi and Simeon, as told in Genesis 34:25–31 [Gen. 34:25–31], is a case where the reactions of responsible people are not completely revealed until later. Some of Jacob’s feelings about their deeds and some indications of their eternal consequences are given to the reader many chapters later, in Genesis 49:5–7 [Gen. 49:5–7].
And there are, of course, cases in which the writers of the accounts did not return at all to tell of the outcomes or consequences of violent acts or of immoral deeds. Unfortunately, some readers have assumed that their silence on the matter indicates toleration. This is a wrong assumption. There is no reason to think immorality on the part of anyone was ever approved or tolerated by the prophets of the Lord. Laws against such evils were known before and are emphasized in the Ten Commandments, are reemphasized by Jesus, and are reiterated in modern prophecy.
It is also unacceptable to assume that because someone was a king or a priest, he was able to evade the law. Accounts of events in the lives of Moses, David, and many of the kings and priests in later Israel deny it. Indeed, it is more serious when leaders sin; as Nathan told David, “… because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. …” (2 Sam. 12:14.) In other words, others see and speak cynically of an institution that professes goodness when its leaders exemplify evil.
Admittedly, some prominent people in the Old Testament were offenders, including Lot’s daughters, Judah, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Samson, Ahaz, Uzziah, and others. The personal consequences are made known to us with regard only to some of them, but that information is usually sobering. There is every reason to believe it would be so in all cases if all details were available. After all, “there is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven” pertinent to all such things. (See D&C 130:20.)
On the positive side, great principles are taught in the Old Testament. During his earthly mission Jesus used them, cited them, and commended their use by others.
For example, recall the situation when he had just finished chastising some Sadducees for not knowing the scriptures. (See Mark 12:24.) Another interrogator arose ostensibly to find out how Jesus would evaluate the teachings in the Law of Moses, asking, “Which is the first commandment of all?
“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
“And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
“And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
“And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:28–33.)
Those great principles of love were found in the Old Testament. They are still found in our versions, in Deuteronomy 6:4–5 [Deut. 6:4–5] and Leviticus 19:18 [Lev. 19:18]. See further pronouncements of them in Deuteronomy 10:12 [Deut. 10:12] and 30:6 [Deut. 30:6] and in Leviticus 19:34 [Lev. 19:34].
Paul also explained to his Roman brethren that one principle covered all:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
“For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:8–10.)
To his Galatian converts, Paul repeated what Jesus had said: “… by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Gal. 5:14.) James called this principle from the Old Testament “the royal law.” (James 2:8.)
Many today, however, think of these commandments as New Testament teachings. Jesus did indeed originate them, but much earlier than in New Testament times, as we shall see. Sometimes, on the other hand, the Old Testament gets credit—or blame—not due it. Readers find that Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies. …” (Matt. 5:43–44.) It is assumed by some that “hate thine enemy” was quoted from the Old Testament. It was not; it is simply one of those “oral traditions” Jesus from time to time denounced.
Indeed, in the revelations of the Lord to Moses one finds admonitions on doing good to and for one’s enemy:
“If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.” (Ex. 23:4–5.)
Inasmuch as Jesus himself said, “I am he who gave the law” (3 Ne. 15:5), it is not surprising that there are gospel teachings in the Old Testament. Moreover, good examples are seen in the lives of many Old Testament characters, such as Isaac, Joseph, Jethro, Joshua, Deborah, Ruth, Boaz, Hannah, Samuel, Jonathan, and Nathan.
After all, the Lord of the New Testament was the Lord (spelled in capital letters) of the Old Testament, as the scriptures attest:
“I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.
“I am the LORD, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King.
“I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isa. 43:11, 15, 25.)
“And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.” (Isa. 49:26.)
Not only are the titles Redeemer, Savior, King, and Creator significant in such revelations, but the substitute title LORD is also significant. Some readers of the Old Testament know this, but many do not. LORD spelled in all capital letters in the Old Testament is the English substitute for the divine name we pronounce Jehovah. Israelites also used other substitute names at times in order to avoid speaking the sacred name Jehovah. A commonly used substitute is Adonai, meaning “My Lord.” Another substitute was Ha-Shem, meaning “The Name.” And there are many other names used in the Old Testament to signify the Savior. An interesting one was Ha-Qadosh, Baruch Hu, ”The Holy One, Blessed be He.” Another name used at the time of Christ was Meimra, meaning “message” or “word.” Thus, when John the Beloved began his Gospel account he said in good Aramaic usage, “In the beginning was Meimra, and Meimra was with God. …”
Some discern intellectually that Jesus is I AM (John 8:58; cf. Ex. 3:14–15), and that I AM (Hebrew Eheyeh) is grammatically similar to HE IS (Hebrew Yiheyeh), which is in turn related to Yehovah. Thus, Jehovah born in the flesh was Jesus. But true assurance comes only to those who gain the testimony of the Holy Ghost, for as Paul said, “… no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Cor. 12:3. Italics added.)
Once we can so testify, we can appreciate the gospel of love common to all dispensations. We should carefully consider both the Old and New Testament teachings on the origins of love, our love for God, and our love for each other.
As Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34. See also Jer. 31:3; 1 Jn. 4:7, 19; Hosea 11:1; Ps. 18:1–2; Ps. 97:10; Deut. 11:1; John 14:15.)
May Paul’s prayer for his Ephesian saints be answered in our behalf, too:
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted out and grounded in love,
“May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
“And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that he might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph. 3:14, 17–19.)