Likening the Scriptures
John A. Tvedtnes
The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi1 drew upon Old Testament books to “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” and exhorted his followers to read the scriptures and to “liken them unto yourselves” (1 Nephi 19:23-24). His brother Jacob followed his example (2 Nephi 6:5; 11:2, 8). Modern prophets and apostles have repeatedly asked us to liken the scriptures to ourselves. This is why our Gospel Doctrine curriculum is based on the scriptures, the standard works of the Church.
Because Latter-day Saints follow Christ, some of us seem to think that the Old Testament has little or nothing to teach us. By likening the scriptures to ourselves, we can benefit from reading about the Lord’s dealings with people in antiquity. But how much value can derive from the account of Cain killing Abel, or Samson’s wicked ways, or David’s fall from grace?
I learned the answer to that question during a BYU Mediterranean cruise in 1978. Dan Ludlow and I had flown from Israel to Italy, where we joined Elder Howard W. Hunter and about 700 Latter-day Saints and sailed from Venice to Egypt and Israel. We and several others had the assignment of lecturing to these tourists during the evenings spent aboard the ship. One evening, it was Robert K. Thomas, a BYU vice-president, who spoke. He recounted some of the wicked deeds performed by Samson, then turned his attention to the question of why such accounts should be in the Bible. His answer was that we can learn from bad examples like Samson, whose motivation seems to have been selfishness.
A number of family problems developed during Isaac’s old age. Isaac’s plans to elevate Esau was contrary to God’s designs (Genesis 25:23). Esau agreed with his father’s acts and thus broke his earlier bargain with Jacob (see Genesis 25:33). But Jacob and Rebecca also cheated. Jewish tradition has it that Rebecca not only proposed Jacob’s disguise (in order that he might receive the blessing as if he were Esau), but she also gave to him the priesthood garments which had been passed down from Adam and Eve and which Isaac had destined for Esau.
The results of these machinations were tragic and are worth enumerating here:
- There were strained relations between the parents because they did not consult one with the other.
- Esau plotted murder against his brother.
- Rebecca, despite her hopes to aid Jacob, lost her favorite son because he had to leave home.
- The home-loving Jacob went into exile in a far country. Eventually, Jacob was even paid back for his deception by his equally deceptive father-in-law.
Why should such a sad tale concerning Israel’s heroes and fathers be included in the Bible? One could reply that the truth cannot be hidden, but such is not really the case. The author of Genesis could have simply said that Jacob left home to “seek his fortune” or to “get a wife,” both of which would have been true statements. But he deliberately included the story to show how the principle of repentance works. Eventually, Jacob matured and became a wise and loving father. Both he and Esau became rich and influential, and Esau forgave Jacob. The reconciliation of the two brothers (Genesis 33) is one of the most touching scenes in the Old Testament. When President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel, after generations of war, signed a peace treaty, Israel’s rabbis ordained that this chapter of reconciliation should be read in commemoration of the event.
In the end, we learn that it was in the best interests of Jacob and the whole family that he go to Syria, where he was able to marry righteous wives who would raise his children properly (Gen. 27:46-28:2). Esau had married Hittite women (Gen. 26:34-35), but upon noting his parents’ instructions to Jacob concerning the choice of a wife, Esau decided to also marry his cousin, the daughter of his father’s half-brother Ishmael (Genesis 28:6-9; her name is given in a different form in Gen. 36:3).
 See, for example, Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s October 1999 General Conference talk, “Lessons from Laman and Lemuel,” and Elder Russell M. Nelson’s October 2000 General Conference talk, “Living by Scriptural Guidance.”