Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lessons learned from the 5 books of Moses

While I was at BYU, I tried really hard to focus my religious studies outside of the Book of Mormon and typical Mormon stuff, so I ended up taking a lot of bible classes. As a result, I am a bit obsessed with the bible now, thanks mostly to my Isaiah and Bible and Literature classes.

Despite my new fascination with the bible, I haven't actually read the entire Old Testament or even the entire New Testament. So a few months ago I decided to start from the beginning and keep going until I had read every page.

The main reason why I have never finished the OT, however, is because of the first 5 books. Well, more like books 3-5. All those laws and numbers are incredibly boring, and frankly, they don't really apply to our modern Mormon lives that much. So when I took Old Testament in seminary, my plans to read the entire OT rather than just the minimum requirements crashed when I hit Leviticus. A member of my bishopric at the time told me that Leviticus and Numbers aren't really that important to us to study anyway, so I gave up that notion with a sigh of relief.

However, being a new convert of the Old Testament, I decided to give it another try and stubbornly plow through every boring page of the 5 books of Moses.

And believe it or not, there are some lessons in there. I still read a lot of the laws and geneology dictations with glazed-over eyes and a cloudy brain, but when I forced myself awake I mananged to find a few nuggets. I started thinking about why God would take so much time explaining these laws at all in such specific detail, and it suddenly started making sense to me (started being the key word here). God wanted his children to remember him always, and I think all of the laws--from what not to eat to what not to do with your wife--were small ways of keeping God's spirit in your life. The Israelites had a very hard time grasping the one-god concept and they needed constant reminders of it. So I think all of those laws were issued to help the people remember who was really in charge so that they could receive abundant blessings.

The biggest lessons for me still came in the stories, however. I love watching the blessings promised to Abraham unfold throughout the 5 books of Moses. I can see personalities in some of the characters, especially the women, and this makes them all the more relatable. Reading this history of their lives truly felt like reading my own family history.

I've talked about this before, (click here, if you must), but the stubborness and childishness of the Israelites has always boggled my mind. They are completely taken care of, and yet they continue to doubt and complain. However, this is where the biggest lesson came in. I have often pictured the god of the Old Testament as a tyrannical god of fire and destruction. We see the Epytians endure plague after plague, and the Israelites themselves go through quite a bit of "purging." It is quite understandable that God would be angry or jealous, because the children of Israel do everything they can to warrant God's anger and jealousy.

But then there is the recurring phrase, "but God's hand was stretched out still" (or something to that effect). God may have punished his children, but he never abandoned them completely. He was incredibly patient--protecting them from their enemies, providing for their physical needs--and for the most part he went unthanked. Even Moses had his faith struggles.

So for me, the OT will no longer be ruled by the fire-and-destruction god. In his place is a patient, loving father who just wants his children to choose the right. All we have to do is remember him and keep his commandments and he will fight for us in the battle against evil. That's a pretty incredible promise.

If the first 5 books of the OT taught me this much, I'm looking forward to what the rest of the bible has in store.

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