What can the Old Testament teach us about how to live the gospel in our own day? How can understanding the law of Moses help us live the higher law of Christ? What beautiful promises of peace and comfort are woven throughout the Psalms?
This volume is the first in a two-volume commentary on the Old Testament, adding to the acclaimed Verse by Verse series by scripture scholars D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner.
Here we learn how to discover our Savior, Jesus Christ, in each book of Old Testament scripture. The authors shed clarifying light on the five books of Moses (the Pentateuch), the history of Jehovah's dealings with Israel through the reign of Solomon, and the beloved and beautiful psalms of ancient Israel.
Brother Ogden and Skinner help us see the importance of offering sacrifice and keeping covenants as they discuss the symbolism of the Ark of the Covenant and the operation of the ancient Tabernacle and Temple. Quotations from latter-day prophets and apostles enhance these solid doctrinal discussions and explanations of difficult passages to help us liken the scriptures of ancient Israel unto ourselves.
This commentary offers soul-satisfying enrichment to our study of the Old Testament, whose timeless truths testify that the Lord is "the same yesterday, today, and forever."
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 512
- Year Published: 2013
About the Authors
D. Kelly Ogden is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. His doctoral work focused on the Hebrew language and historical geography of biblical lands. He has walked the length and breadth of the Holy Land and climbed Mount Sinai eighteen times. Dr. Ogden has written numerous books and articles on the Bible, especially during the fourteen years he lived in the Near East. He was associate director of the BYU Jerusalem Center and assisted in the preparation of the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible. He has served as branch president in Jerusalem, mission president in Chile, Missionary Training Center president in Guatemala, and sealer in the Provo Utah Temple. He and his wife, Marcia Hammond Ogden, are the parents of four children.
Andrew C. Skinner, a professor of ancient scripture and Near Eastern studies, is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at BYU, where he served as dean of Religious Education and as the first executive director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. A member of the international editorial group that translated the Dead Sea Scrolls and author or coauthor of more than two hundred articles and books on religious and historical topics, Dr. Skinner taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center and was its associate director. He has served in the Church as a bishop, a counselor in a district presidency in Israel, a member of the Correlation Evaluation Committee, and a member of the Sunday School General Board. He and his wife, Janet Corbridge Skinner, are the parents of six children.
The first word of the book of Genesis in Hebrew is bereshith (literally, “in the beginning”), from which the book takes its name. In ancient times books were often named after the first word or phrase of their texts. The English term Genesis derives from the Greek geneseos, which appears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, dating from around 250 b.c. The Greek word geneseos can mean “birth,” “genealogy,” or “history of origin.” The book of Genesis tells Israel who they are and who they belong to—the Lord Omnipotent. Genesis starts with an account of the Creation in order to give Israel an understanding of their place in God’s plan.
Thus, Genesis not only provides a scriptural account of the Creation but also records the covenants that God entered into with the forebears of the house of Israel. This is of immense value to Latter-day Saints who are the heirs of those covenants.
There is much in Genesis that reflects the general picture of life and culture in the ancient Near East as known from other ancient sources. Genesis bears the stamp of an authentic ancient text. Yet there is also much that presents the fingerprint of prophetic authorship. Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of the first few chapters of Genesis, what we know as Moses 2–8 and call the writings of Moses, is a more correct version of the text (D&C 35:20). And even more significantly, Moses 1, known as the visions of Moses, is a totally new revelation in modern times. It provides us with the missing introduction to the book of Genesis, just as Genesis provides the introduction to the rest of the Bible. The visions of Moses were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1830; the writings were revealed from June to December 1830.
The missing introduction to Genesis, Moses 1, provides the sweeping, cosmic foundation for the narrower, specific discussion of this earth found in the rest of Genesis. Moses 1 centers on six themes:
• the greatness of God, and the nothingness of man without God
• Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten Son and Creator of worlds without number
• the reality and intentions of Satan
• God’s purposes and intentions
• the calling and education of Moses as a great writer-prophet
• the nature of transfiguration
Moses 1 is unparalleled in its scope and is an indispensable way to begin a study of our “beginnings” as recorded in the book of beginnings.
Another valuable resource for information and insight into Genesis is the Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the Bible. The following are particularly relevant: “Canon,” “Cherubim,” “Joseph Smith Translation,” “Genesis,” “God,” “Devil,” “Adam,” “Eve,” “Michael,” “Fall of Adam,” and “Dispensations.” Similarly, the following entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism will be helpful: “Old Testament”; “Book of Abraham”; “Creation, Creation Accounts”; “God the Father”; “Origin of Man”; “Adam”; “Eve”; “Earth,” especially the sections on the age of the earth, the origin and destiny of the earth, and the Great Flood; “Garden of Eden”; “Fall of Adam”; “Adamic Language”; and “Adam-ondi-Ahman.”
The Book of Mormon, the world’s best commentary on the Bible, also offers fascinating and vital commentary on Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the Atonement; see Alma 12:21–36; 22:12–14; 42:2–10; and Helaman 14:15–18.
Genesis 1:1 (Moses 2:1; Abraham 4:1)
The account starts with “In the beginning God,” and those four words constitute a profound message to all the world—to the religious world, to the scholarly world, and to the scientific world. Right from the beginning God is the foremost and preeminent focus. Here we begin to learn about the Creator, and by learning more about his Creation we can exercise more faith and trust in him.
The Hebrew text of verses 1–2 can literally be read in a single sentence: “In the beginning of God’s creating of [this] heaven and earth, the earth was empty and desolate.”
The Lord has not revealed to humankind the detailed process by which this earth and the universe in which it is positioned were created. Scientific theories come and go, and refinements to natural laws continue to be proposed. Probably our present finite intellectual and spiritual capacities will not allow us to fully comprehend the divine powers and divine actions that brought these things about. We are increasingly drawn to the wisdom of Moroni: “Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes? Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of God? Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created” (Mormon 9:16–17). The Lord has promised that the time will come, during the Millennium, when all things will be revealed, “hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof” (D&C 101:33).
The Hebrew word used here for God, ’elohim, is literally a plural noun, though it is always translated in the singular when referring to the true and living God, owing to a principle grammarians and theologians call the plural of majesty. But Joseph Smith taught that the head of the Gods called the Gods together (History of the Church, 6:308), and “they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abraham 4:1). The term created is used to translate the Hebrew bara’ or baurau, which means to “organize,” to “shape, form, or fashion.” There is no suggestion in the word that matter was created out of nothing. Quite the contrary, the word suggests an ordering of preexisting realities, as ancient rabbis taught.
Joseph Smith explained: “You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, ‘Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?’ And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos. . . . The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end” (History of the Church, 6:308–9; see also D&C 93:33). On another occasion the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “this earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodelled and made into the one on which we live” (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 60).
Creation of other parts of the universe, including other earths, is mentioned in Moses 1:35 and 7:29–36 and alluded to in Genesis 1:16.
Genesis 1:2 (Moses 2:2; Abraham 4:2)
The earth after it was organized and formed was, of course, not “without form and void,” but rather, as understood from the Hebrew and as read in the Abraham account, was “empty and desolate”—that is, it was unpopulated and unplanted. At this point, when the earth was being prepared as a habitable abode for man, it was enveloped in waters upon which the “Spirit of God” moved or brooded or hovered over.
The creative force, here called the “Spirit of God,” which acted upon the elements to shape and prepare them to sustain life on earth, is also the Light of Christ, as referred to in parts of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 88:7–13). Regarding how the Holy Ghost directs the powers of nature, Elder James E. Talmage, himself a scientist, stated:
“Through the power of the Spirit, the Father and the Son operate in their creative acts and in their general dealings with the human family. The Holy Ghost may be regarded as the minister of the Godhead, carrying into effect the decision of the Supreme Council.
“In the execution of these great purposes, the Holy Ghost directs and controls the varied forces of nature. . . . Gravitation, sound, heat, light, and the still more mysterious and seemingly supernatural power of electricity, are but the common servants of the Holy Ghost in His operations. No earnest thinker, no sincere investigator supposes that he has yet learned of all the forces existing in and operating upon matter; indeed, the observed phenomena of nature, yet wholly inexplicable to him, far outnumber those for which he has devised even a partial explanation. There are powers and forces at the command of God, compared with which electricity is as the pack-horse to the locomotive, the foot messenger to the telegraph, the raft of logs to the ocean steamer. With all his scientific knowledge man knows but little respecting the enginery of creation; and yet the few forces known to him have brought about miracles and wonders, which but for their actual realization would be beyond belief. These mighty agencies . . . do not constitute the Holy Ghost, but are the agencies ordained to serve His purposes” (Articles of Faith, 160–61).
Scriptures such as John 1:1–4 and Hebrews 1:1–2 also show that that power was exerted by the Son, under the command of the Father (see also Helaman 12:8–14; Jacob 4:6–9).
Genesis 1:3–4 (Moses 2:3–4; Abraham 4:3–4)
This light which was brought to bear upon the primeval planet earth was apparently from sources other than the sun, into whose rays the earth was later brought (v. 14). The light which enlightened all creation before our current luminary was God himself (D&C 88:7–13). So shall it be again when the earth achieves its ultimate celestial destiny; God will be the light of this sphere (Revelation 21:23; 22:5).
In verse 4 we begin to see how God called the successive phases of creation “good.” Indeed, his creations are good—glorious and beautiful (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
Genesis 1:5 (Moses 2:5; Abraham 4:5)
While the condition of light was called by God’s word for “day” and the condition of absence of light was called by his term for “night,” there is no reason to assume that his day and night were of the same length as ours, which are measured for us by our planet’s revolutions in the sunlight. Other periods are indicated for others of God’s realms (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8; Abraham 3:4; 5:13; and facsimile 2, figures 1–5). Indeed, even after Adam was placed in the garden, “the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning” (Abraham 5:13).
Genesis 1:6–8 (Moses 2:6–8; Abraham 4:6–8)
The English word firmament is derived from the Latin word used to translate the Hebrew word raqiya, meaning “expanse.” “Expanse” is the word used in Abraham 4:6. This expanse is all or any part of space. From the surface of the earth outward, this expanse includes the atmosphere in which the birds fly and in which the clouds float as “waters . . . above” the earth, as well as all the space of the astral universe beyond (vv. 7, 14–18, 20).
Our atmosphere includes water vapor and clouds floating a short distance above the earth, but on parts of the surface of the earth is the fluid water of the oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. Thus the atmosphere permits a division of waters “above” (in the air) from waters “below” (on the surface). The evaporation-condensation cycle of water brings rain and dew to the land, making life possible on what would otherwise be a desolate planet.
“Heaven” (v. 8) is understood from the context to connote the same thing as the English word sky. English, Hebrew, German, and several other languages use the same word to refer to the sky, heaven, the abode of God, and paradise, the place of the (good) departed dead.
Genesis 1:9–10 (Moses 2:9–10; Abraham 4:9–10)
The first activity of the third “day” evidently entailed a wrinkling of the earth’s solid crust to let some matter appear above the enveloping waters and become dry land. Evidence is given later (Genesis 10:25) that there was only one land mass at first. This was in preparation for the earth to support living things which had been “spiritually” created before they were “naturally upon the face of the earth” (compare Moses 3:4–7). Later the waters also were made a suitable medium for sustaining life (Abraham 4:20–21). The grand object of the Creation was life—to support mortal life in order to test and prepare earth’s inhabitants for eternal life.
Genesis 1:11–13 (Moses 2:11–13; Abraham 4:11–13)
A second project of the third “day” was the creation of varieties of plant life, each with power to reproduce itself according to its species or kind.
Genesis 1:14–19 (Moses 2:14–19; Abraham 4:14–19)
The work of the fourth “day” describes the establishment of the earth in its orbital relationship to the other astronomical bodies of our system so that its rotation upon its axis and its revolutions about its orbit, with its axis not quite perpendicular to the orbital plane, would provide day and night and the year’s seasons, while its satellite moon could provide light at night and another means of marking time. The technical balance of the earth’s placement as to heat, light, radiation, motion, and gravity are marvelous today as we learn more and more about the hazards of trying to take living beings into space beyond the compatible milieu of this earth.
Genesis 1:20–23 (Moses 2:20–23; Abraham 4:20–23)
Varieties of fowl, fish, and other creatures were created as the project of the fifth “day.” Note that these, like the plants, were provided with the power to reproduce themselves—each according to its specific kind.
The word in verse 21 translated “great whales” (Hebrew, tanninim) does not refer specifically to whales; it is rendered in other passages of the Old Testament as “serpents,” “dragons,” and “sea-monsters,” and can even mean “crocodile.” The footnote’s “great sea-monsters” is adequate for our purposes.
The Hebrew word ‘umilu (“and fill”) is correctly translated here in the command to “fill the waters in the seas.” Later the same word is rendered, in verse 28, with the English words “and replenish.” Replenish means “fill,” as may be seen in any dictionary, but some have thought it means “re-fill,” which is an error.
Genesis 1:24–28 (Moses 2:24–28; Abraham 4:24–28)
The sixth “day” or creative period witnessed the crowning event of creation—the establishment of humankind on the earth. The first part of the sixth day was used in bringing forth the wild beasts, the animals for man’s use (generically called “cattle” in King James English), and the insects, or “creeping things.” Note again that the Creators found that all things functioned properly, or were “good,” among these families of creatures.
Verse 26 does not indicate who said to whom, “Let us make man in our image,” but Moses 2:26 says it was God the Father speaking to him who was eventually to be his Only Begotten Son. This is in harmony with passages already considered that indicate that the work of creation was done by the Son under the direction of the Father (John 1:1–4, 14; Hebrews 1:1–3; Moses 1:32–33). The use of the plural “us” and “our” clearly indicates the involvement of more than one God in the creative process (see also Genesis 3:22).
Regarding the participation of many individuals in the Creation, Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that in addition to God the Father, his Son (Jehovah), and Michael, Joseph Smith also was involved in some aspect of the Creation, though not the Creation of mortal bodies for Adam and Eve.
“As to this man, Joseph Smith, let us say—Here is a man who was chosen before he was born, who was numbered with the noble and great in the councils of eternity before the foundations of this world were laid. Along with Adam and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, he sat in council with the Gods when the plans were made to create an earth whereon the hosts of our Father’s children might dwell. Under the direction of the Holy One and of Michael, who became the first man, he participated in the creative enterprises of the Father” (Ensign, May 1976, 94).
President Joseph Fielding Smith professed the same belief: “It is true that Adam helped to form this earth. He labored with our Savior Jesus Christ. I have a strong view or conviction that there were others also who assisted them. Perhaps Noah and Enoch; and why not Joseph Smith, and those who were appointed to be rulers before the earth was formed? We know that Jesus our Savior was a Spirit when this great work was done” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:74–75).
The phrase, making man “in our image, after our likeness” certainly suggests that God has a body. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. . . . if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another” (Joseph Smith [manual], 40).
It is important to point out that the terms “man” and “mankind” as they appear throughout the King James translation of the Hebrew Old Testament text simply represent the generic concept “human” or “humankind.” “Man” usually means “male and female,” as indicated in verse 27 (see also D&C 20:18). A father cannot create children without a mother, so the male and female were created in the image of a Father and a Mother, their Heavenly Parents. Abraham’s account of the Creation clearly implies that the Gods are male and female: “So the Gods went down to organize man [humankind] in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them” (Abraham 4:27).
The First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) declared, “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity” (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:203). And President Spencer W. Kimball confirmed the origins of humankind in this way: “The Creators breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and man and woman became living souls. We don’t know exactly how their coming into this world happened, and when we’re able to understand it the Lord will tell us” (Ensign, Mar. 1976, 72).
In verse 28 God is speaking to the man and the woman. If God spoke to them, then both God and his offspring used a common language. We sometimes refer to this pure language of God as the Adamic language.
Genesis 1:28–31 (Moses 2:28–31; Abraham 4:28–31)
Note the important responsibilities, privileges, and powers given to mankind, in order that they might fulfill the purposes of creation as sons and daughters of God.
1. To reproduce: procreate children and care for them—an exercise in potential godliness;
2. To fill (replenish) the earth and subdue it, using all of its resources and facilities;
3. To have dominion, or rulership, among all other creatures—another exercise in godliness. God is definitely concerned about the environment—he spent a lot of effort creating this earth, and now that we’ve been given dominion he expects us to take good care of it. We are to exercise dominion over other living things, but not unrighteous dominion. Moses 5:1 replaces “subdue” (Genesis 1:28) with “till,” which implies Adam’s obligation to manage the earth and enhance its lifegiving ability.
In verse 29 we see that the produce of plants and trees was given to man for “meat.” This is simply the King James English term for food. What we call meat, the King James Bible refers to as “flesh.” But more than just for food, “all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart” (D&C 59:18). The Lord of creation cares about beauty and aesthetic value.
At the conclusion of the creation of all nature with its interrelationships and balances, the Creator saw that everything functioned properly and was “very good.” Doctrinally, the Creation is one of the three pillars of eternity (three key elements of the plan of salvation), along with the Fall and the Atonement.
Looking back over Genesis 1, we can see that the account of the creative periods is very brief. But it is dignified brevity, which is how ancient Hebrew writers sometimes wrote. Much more is meant than is actually written. What we have is presented with monumental diction, stately cadence, and reverent grandeur.
It should be remembered, too, that there was no intention of answering all the questions: who, what, where, when, how, and why. “Who,” “what,” and especially “why” are adequately answered for us in Genesis and in the elaborations on Genesis found in the other standard works. The opening chapter of Genesis was never intended as a textbook of geology, archaeology, anthropology, or astronomy, though the details of “where,” “when,” and “how” can come later (see Article of Faith 9; D&C 101:32–33; 121:26–32).
There is so much about the creative process and the early history of our earth that remains in the realm of the unknown. Nevertheless, we should never lose faith in the things we know because of the things we don’t know.
the study guildes have made the old testment exciting - I can't put it down
by Debra - reviewed on February 01, 2014
I have read the Old Testament but never studied it. I felt it was too difficult book for me to understand. I have been watching the Discussions of the Old Testament on KBYU and then reading this study guide along with the scriptures. This guide has made the Old Testament relevant to my life and have woven it through the other standard works so that I now have a deep love and appreciation of the teachings of the Old Testament. What blessings I have been missing by not making a study of the Old Testament. I feel like I have a much deeper understanding of all the standard works as a result of this study. My thanks to the authors for their dedication in sharing their knowledge.
The Old Testament Comes Alive in this Wonderful Commentary
by Customer - reviewed on April 28, 2014
This Old Testament Commentary is a "must read" for LDS who dare to venture into the Old Testament. Nothing else comes close. The authors, Drs. Ogden and Skinner, are two of the best Biblical scholars in the Church, and their Commentary is a sweet mix of cultural, historical and doctrinal explanation combined with suggestions on how to apply scriptural truths in our life. The Old Testament really plays a pivotal role in enriching our understanding of other ancient and modern scripture, and your knowledge of the scriptures will certainly grow by using this valuable study aid.