Monday, January 12, 2009

The Old Testament

I went to an Institute class this morning that was fantastic. It's a class on the second half of the Old Testament, which is perfect for me, because I'm to Proverbs and one of my 2009 goals is to finish the Old Testament. The class started at 8:35 am (and like seriously, the Old Testament), so I knew it would be a small class, except that, oh wait, it was actually two classrooms big. There were a bunch of people! And I'm sure some people are ambitious and go to the first class and stop coming partway through the semester, but still!

Turns out, it's basically because the teacher is amazing.

He was telling us, you go to the Old Testament for a first person account of the Atonement. He said that next to the book of Luke, the Old Testament is the best place to go to get to know Christ. Mostly the second half of Isaiah, and the stuff David wrote. I thought this was kind of interesting, because I always just sort of assumed that the Book of Mormon would be the second best. Or like, Matthew would be, or something. But as we were talking about it, I could see what he meant.

We mostly talked about a few Psalms today. Psalms are not just a poetic part of the scriptures; they're basically the hymnbook of their world back then. It was the same as it is for us. When we're going through hard times, sometimes we sing hymns. The LDS pioneers sometimes sang "Come, Come Ye Saints" when things were rough. Just as we draw on hymns in times of trial, Christ quoted Psalm 22; "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,". But he wasn't just saying that line; he was quoting the first line of this song. And people back then would have known that he was quoting it.

So to know better how Christ was feeling, we can read the rest of the psalm. Instead of us looking up at the cross, like we are in the accounts in the gospels, reading this takes us right up onto the cross with him, because it's in first person.

7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn : they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

(Shoot out the lip = stick out their tongues. They're mocking him. Which, we knew.)

He told us the most poignant account of the crucifixion is Psalm 22. It's Messianic literature.

With Messianic literature, there are two ways of looking at it:

1. The writer saw Christ and was writing about it. (This is more true of Isaiah.)

2. David had experiences, and he had a deep heart and could express some of the deepest feelings of our hearts. (He compared this to Shakespeare, who can write from the perspective of Juliet, who is a teenager in love, and also from the perspective of King Lear, who is like, a bitter old man. And he writes the depth of emotions that all different kinds of people experience so well that his stuff stays around. Not very many people can express deep emotions so well, but Shakespeare was one who could, and so was David.) And David's writing is Messianic because Christ drew upon his words and said that's exactly how he felt.

So with Messianic literature it's partially people writing about Christ, and partially people expressing deep emotions so well that Christ quotes it later.

16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

These things are literal, and then verse 19:

19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

They can do all these things to me, but I can handle all that; but Lord, don't you leave me. These verses give us perspective into how Christ was feeling during the Atonement.

He said a bunch of other stuff, and gave other examples, but it's late and I'm tired, so I'll just share a couple more things from my notes.

Psalm 69.

9 For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.
20 Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Again, we're on the cross with Him, looking down, instead of being with the apostles, looking up.

He said we sometimes talk about "the cup of trembling" or the "bitter cup" when we're talking about the Atonement, and he said that the two go together. When we drink vinegar, we don't just say "ew", and he made a face as though he'd tasted something bitter, and when people taste bitter things, their faces pucker and crinkle up--bitterness causes trembling. (He told us, "You go home tonight and drink a cup of vinegar and you'll understand the image very well.")

And then just one last thing he talked about; Psalm 107. He said sometimes Christ deliberately did things to fulfil prophecy. He would specifically duplicate the miracles of other prophets.

That was the way they did things back then. I wish I remember all of the examples he gave, but basically, like Moses parts the Sea, so other prophets parted other things. And that repetition happened a lot. It was part of assuming the mantle of a prophet. Or something like that.

And back in the day, because they did that, you couldn't say "Oh, I believe Abraham was a prophet, and Moses was, and I believe in Elijah, but I don't know about this Elisha..." because that would be gross hypocracy.

In Psalm 107, he showed us this:

23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man and are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

(He told us that the phrase "at their wits' end" came from that verse of the scriptures.)

I asked him if the apostles would have recognized that from the psalm when he calmed the storm. He told me they would have. He said they knew the Psalms really well, just like we would recognize stories from the Book of Mormon if we heard them.

Anyhow, it was a really good class. I'm looking forward to the rest of the semester. I was telling my coworkers about it today, and my boss asked who was teaching it. I looked it up, and I told her. It's S. Michael Wilcox. I thought the name had sounded kinda familiar, but she knew who he was. Apparently he's also an author. He's written a bunch of books I've heard of. Deseret Book has like 15 of his books listed. Hm. Neat.

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