Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Old Testament Higher Laws

As students of the Old Testament we often perceive the teachings contained therein as having an emphasis on the lesser or lower law of sacrifice, while we think of the New Testament, or teachings of Jesus Christ’s personal ministry, as ones that require a higher form of commitment. The example to illustrate this principle that is often used, is that of the Sermon on the Mount, both given to the people in the land of Jerusalem, and then once again by the resurrected Lord to the people on the American continent. This famous teaching recalls the commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, known as the Ten Commandments, but gives additional instruction requiring the disciple to consecrate more of himself to the will of the Father by living the spiritual aspect of the law as well as the physical. For example it is stated:

3 Nephi 12:27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;

28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.

29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;

We are taught the importance the Lord places not only on the action, but also upon the intent. This is one example of why we are taught we need to cleanse the inner vessel.

Alma 60:23 Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.

The intent with which we do something, or conversely don’t do something, seems to be just as important to the Lord as the act itself.

Looking for this teaching in the Old Testament is a little more difficult but it can be found. The Old Testament contains the same laws as the New Testament; they are just packaged a little differently. A good illustration of the principle of intent is found in the book of Genesis, in the story about Joseph and the dealings with his brothers.

Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, or Israel, was sent on an errand, by his father, to check on the other brothers as they attended to their duties with the flocks. Although Joseph was visibly the favorite son of his father, he was apparently not the favorite among the brothers themselves. His visions and dreams, in which he saw himself as ruler over his brothers, and even his father, had placed him in a very precarious position among his siblings. How the brothers felt about Joseph is manifest in their actions in the following account:

Genesis 37:19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

By this account it is revealed that most of the brothers saw this as an opportunity to rid themselves of their younger brother who professed to someday rule over them, and they had the intent in their hearts to kill him.

Reuben, alone, wanted no part of the scheme.

21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

The intent that Reuben had was to temporarily get rid of him so that the brothers could not do the evil that they had designed.

What happens next is a great illustration of the principle of intent versus performing the act. Casting him in the pit, Judah comes up with another plan to rid themselves of their brother:

23 ¶ And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;

24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

The desire of their heart was to get rid of their brother in any way possible. Whether it was caused by jealousy, or simply pride wherein they intended for his visions and dreams to be proven false, we are not told. But in any case, in their hearts they designed to do evil. The Lord had other plans in mind for these brothers.

28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.

30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?

Although the evil act was not actually done by the brothers themselves, but by the passing band of Midianites, the consequence of the act is soon felt by all of them. In an attempt to cover up their intents they formulated a lie to tell their father about the fate of Joseph. By the lesser law the brothers really did not commit the treacherous act, but by the higher law, their intent is apparent. The importance the Lord places on intent is then illustrated by the process of repentance that was required of the brothers simply because of the intent of their hearts.

Joseph, who was sold into slavery, became the perfect illustration of the admonition of the Lord, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” His intent to progress in any circumstance soon elevated him to a position of importance in Pharaohs kingdom, where ultimately he acted as a savior for the whole house of Israel.

The great process of repentance that is required of the brothers teaches us that the thoughts of our hearts are just as important to the Lord as the actual deed itself.

Mosiah 4:30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.

So, what is my point in using this illustration of the “higher law” in the Old Testament you may ask?

Besides the great message of seeking to cleanse the inner vessel by recognizing our intents and not just our actions, my hope would be for us to look deeper at the great teachings the Old Testament has to offer and ponder on the gift it is to us for scriptural guidance.

Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:

After all, The Old Testament is one of my favorite books to read!


Greg Dowden said...

I love Joseph! One of my favorite Old Testament Prophets! The Old Testament is the Bomb!

Jelaire R. said...

Great article! My husband and I were actually talking about this same concept and found other scriptures in the Old Testament that seem to show that the Lord expected them not just to live the "lower law," but the "higher law," ,as well!

Psalms 24:4 He that hath clean hands (actions), and a pure heart (thoughts); who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Leviticus 19:18 "Thou shalt not avenge (actions), nor bear any grudge (thoughts) against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord."

Isaiah 55:7 "Let the wicked forsake his way (actions), and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."

It also makes me wonder if the Lord has given us our own "lower law"-type commandments (tithing)? Any thoughts?

In The Doghouse said...

Jelaire R,
I love the additional examples of scripture you have given from the Old Testament that illustrate the principle of intent. The question you submit of our “lower law” type commandments is one that I have pondered much myself. Your use of tithing as an example is one that I have many thoughts on. lol In the Old Testament when Abraham paid “tithes” to Melchizedek, it was tithes of “all that he had.” The higher law of consecration is seen in this concept. The Old Testament laws are preparatory laws pointing to Jesus Christ but IMHO they are not lesser in the sense of significance.

In the ministry of Jesus Christ, I believe, He was actually teaching from and commentating on the Old Testament in the principles He taught. He was making sure that the people understood the law in its perfect form. This understanding of law is the only way to comprehend grace. Understanding law is the only way to truly understand God too. God is law.

Thanks again for your insights.