Gifts from Ancient Israel


The Old Testament contains many inspired teachings from ancient Israel that are applicable to the Lord’s Latter-day Saints. Though life today may differ in many ways from life in Old Testament times, eternal truths are the same for the children of God in every age. Throughout my life, the Old Testament has guided me. I call its many treasures “gifts from ancient Israel.”

A Childhood Gift: Balaam’s Donkey

Balaam was journeying with men who had ill intentions toward Israel. The Lord sent an angel to stop him. Balaam’s donkey saw the angel blocking the passageway, but her master did not. Three times the animal refused to move on, and each time Balaam smote her.

“And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” The Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel, who told Balaam that the donkey had saved his life. (See Num. 22:5–35.)

When I was a child, this better-than-fairy-tale story, and many like it, thrilled me. Imagine—a talking donkey! Heavenly Father could perform such wonderful miracles.

As a mother, I remember a rare morning when I was up long enough before the children to have time to sit in our sun-filled living room and peacefully read the scriptures. Soon a small son in pajamas stumbled from the bedroom. Rubbing his sleepy eyes, he snuggled up on my lap. “What are you reading, Mama?” he asked.

At such times, I pass the Old Testament’s gift of stories to my children. First, I tell them favorites, such as the stories of Noah’s ark (see Gen. 6–8), Joseph’s coat of many colors (see Gen. 37:3–36), and King Solomon’s almost causing a baby to be divided by a sword and given to two professed mothers (see 1 Kgs. 3:16–28).

Next I tell them of lesser-known heroes, such as the three mighties who served King David. During a battle with the Philistines, they broke through enemy lines, at peril to their lives, to fetch a drink of water for their thirsty king. (See 1 Chr. 11:10–19.)

There are many similar stories that a child’s mind can savor.

A Gift in Youth: Asa’s Health Lesson

In my college years I suffered a minor plague of health woes. Each new attempt with prescribed medications only seemed to add to the confusion of symptoms. Then I read about Asa.

“And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians.

“And Asa slept with his fathers, and died in the one and fortieth year of his reign” (2 Chr. 16:12–13).

Like Asa, I also had “sought to the physicians” only. But as I read this scripture, the Spirit made very clear to me in whose hands my cure lay. Having done all that medical science prescribed, I prayed, and the Lord directed and blessed me. I have enjoyed many years now free of those problems.

Gift to a Missionary: Races and Battles

Question: “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?” (Jer. 12:5).

Answer: “Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed … ; for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chr. 20:15).

It was one of those days during my mission when I felt I could not take even one more door slammed in my face. From my junior companion’s weary glance, I could tell she felt the same. We crossed the street to a huge grain field. I climbed up on a high ditch bank and raised my voice to the captive audience of dirt clods and tall, yellow stalks of grain nodding affably in the wind.

I preached the sermon to that field that I longed to teach to the living harvest spoken of in section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 4]. I yearned to harvest souls for the Lord. Had we not thrust in our sickles with all our might? And yet it seemed we were barely keeping up with the footmen, while our unreached goals raced beyond us like horses. The scripture in 2 Chronicles gave us new and comforting perspective as it reminded us to whom the battle belonged. The Lord’s harvest is imminent, and the winners in the battles and the races of mortality are not determined by mortal measurements.

A Parent’s Gift: “O That There Were Such an Heart!”

Early in our marriage, my husband and I were staying with friends; everyone had gone to bed late after a busy evening of visiting and activities. We were almost asleep when we remembered that we hadn’t met our daily scripture-reading goal. Instead of turning on the lights and digging through the suitcases for our standard works, we decided to take turns quietly quoting our favorite passages of scripture to each other.

It was the first time I heard reference to “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29).

I could tell by the hushed tone of my husband’s voice how sincerely he desired the words of the scripture to be true—that we would have such hearts, that it might be well with us and our children forever. Today this verse hangs on the wall in our living room. It’s our family’s recipe for an eternally happy home.

A Gift to Womankind: “Wise Hearted Women”

I try to keep in mind the contrast between two descriptions of women found in Proverbs. There are twenty-two verses extolling praiseworthy deeds and attributes of the virtuous woman whose “price is far above rubies.” (See Prov. 31:10–31.) Compare this to Proverbs 21:19: “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” [Prov. 21:19]

The Old Testament is full of examples of faithful and righteous women. I honor the “wise hearted” women of ancient Israel. (See Ex. 35:25.) I revere Rebekah for the Lord’s revelation to her that two nations would come forth from the unborn twins yet in her womb. (See Gen. 25:21–23.) I sigh over Rachel’s seven-year courtship with its unexpected outcome. (See Gen. 29:18–28.) I marvel at Sarah’s obedience to the law (see D&C 132:34), and I weep with Hannah for a son (see 1 Sam. 1:4–16). I wonder at the leadership of Deborah (see Judg. 4–5) and at the faith of Sampson’s mother when she conversed with an angel (see Judg. 13). I pray that I will learn and exemplify the unselfishness of Eve (see Moses 5:11), the courage of Esther (see Esth. 4–5), and the devotion of Ruth (see Ruth 1). I hope to live as Abigail and be described as “a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance” (1 Sam. 25:3).

The Old Testament has shared timely gifts with me throughout my life: a talking donkey, Asa’s feet, races and battles, an obedient heart, and exemplary women. Such miraculously preserved gifts from God are conveniently available to us and could well carry the label “To: Modern Israel. From: Ancient Israel. Heed with Care.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Larry Winborg