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Old Testament has a lasting influence

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"The "Old" in "Old Testament" is sometimes interpreted as meaning "uninteresting" or "no longer applicable." And because much of the foundation of and information about the House of Israel springs from the Old Testament, it falls into the same predicament. Technically, we know that these two subjects are important to the gospel. What we may not know is why they are important, and how they apply to us as modern-day members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Why read the Old Testament?

You may have thought: "If we have the restored gospel and modern-day scripture, and if we have living prophets who speak in the name of God, why would we even need to consider the Old Testament?"

In the economy of heaven, the Lord works through order and direction. Part of that order is founded on the law or doctrine of witnesses. This means the Lord will share the burden of proof in establishing His truth, ensuring that we have no reason for doubt. The Old Testament stands as an additional witness that the Lord is watching over His people, and that the House of Israel is the means by which His promises and covenants are given.

A second reason to reconsider the Old Testament comes from the Book of Mormon. Even a causal reading of the Book of Mormon produces numerous references to the House of Israel. Curiously, the Book of Mormon authors never define the House of Israel. Its history, development and growth are found in their entirety only in the Old Testament.

Why didn't Lehi or Nephi or Mormon give us this information? Because the prophets of the Book of Mormon expected that we would have the record that laid the foundation of the House of Israel — the Old Testament. (See 2 Nephi 29:4.)

This understanding gives added emphasis to the Old Testament. If we want to really understand the Book of Mormon and the covenants and blessings promised to the House of Israel, then we must also read the Old Testament to gain the vital information concerning the House of Israel's foundation and evolution.

The House of Israel and you

I doubt there has ever been a person born into this world who hasn't had the desire and longing for identity. There is something ennobling and enabling about knowing who we are. Not just who we are, but whose we are. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "Once we know who we are, and the royal lineage of which we are a part, our actions and directions in life will be more appropriate to our inheritance."

The Savior understands our desire for identity, and tells us, ". . . behold, ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed." (3 Nephi 20:25.)

Where do we as individuals fit into the "seed" of Abraham? We learn in Genesis that in Abraham we find the beginnings of the blessings promised to the House of Israel. (See Genesis 12:6-7; 13:14-17; 15:2-18; 17; 22:15-18.) Isaac, Abraham's son of faith and miracle, received the same promises. (See Genesis 26:1-5.)

And then Isaac's son Jacob, later to be known as Israel, also received the marvelous promises of his father and grandfather. (Genesis 28:10-22; 35:1-15.)

The continuation and transfer of the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob came on April 3, 1836. As the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver prayed in the Kirtland Temple, they received a vision of the Savior, and of Moses, Elias and Elijah. Through the power of the priesthood these three patriarchs committed to Joseph and Oliver the same keys and promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, "that in [you] and [your] seed all generations after [you] should be blessed." (Doctrine and Covenants 110:12.)

We learn of our lineage through our patriarchal blessing. These unique blessings contain Heavenly Father's words directed to each of us. A vital part of every patriarchal blessing is the declaration of lineage. . . . The declaration of lineage is to come by the promptings of the Holy Ghost. This inspiration can come to the patriarch regardless of the race or nationality of the person receiving the blessing.

Being a part of the House of Israel, whether through blood lineage or through adoption, is only half of the eternal equation. In the words of Paul, "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel." (Romans 9:6.) We must also make and keep the marriage covenants found within the temple. "Everyone in the Church who has been married in the temple has received exactly the same promise that God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Everyone who is married in the temple and who keeps the covenant has the assurance that he or she will have eternal increase, that his posterity will be like the dust of the earth and the stars of heaven in number," said Elder Bruce R. McConkie.

Abraham's covenant and the Atonement

One doctrine that stands above all is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. All else is worthless and impossible without it. (See Moses 6:63.)

The Abrahamic covenant encompasses the gospel and priesthood, a land in which we may worship, and eternal increase through posterity. The Atonement of Christ is the underpinning principle of this covenant, the glue that holds it together. We do not doubt that the Lord has kept and will keep His part of the Abrahamic covenant.

However, members of the House of Israel have occasionally wandered and neglected their part of this covenant. In the midst of self-imposed struggles they have cursed God, and have asked Him why He has seemingly abandoned them in their hour of need.

The Lord responded, "To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Behold for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves . . . when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver?" (2 Nephi 7:1-2; Isaiah 50:1-2.)

The Law of Justice would demand that if the House of Israel ever strayed from their covenants, they must remain forever cut off from the presence of God and from His blessings. However, the Atonement of Christ satisfies the Law of Justice, and allows even those who stray the opportunity to again covenant with God and realize the fullness of the blessings originally promised them as members of the House of Israel.

It is in reading and studying the Old Testament that we gain a better understanding of our own identity as members of the House of Israel, its purposes and promises.

Russell C. Rasmussen is an instructor of Ancient Scripture in the Department of Religious Education at BYU.