The books of Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther summarize about 800 years of Israelite history, from their early days in the land of Canaan, through the reigns of the kings and their captivity, to the eventual return of the southern tribes to the promised land.
This summer, following the Come, Follow Me curriculum, I’ve studied these historical books and connected them with relevant passages in the Book of Mormon. Here are some of the principles I learned in that process:
1. Walls may be necessary, but we also need doors.
Early on, I noted a stark contrast: God told Samuel to hearken to the voice of the people when they asked for a king. But shortly after, He reproved Saul for breaking His commandments because he feared the people. I concluded that we should accommodate the opinions and preferences of other people when we can, but that we should not allow others to intimidate us into violating God’s commandments.
These concepts came together for me when Nehemiah, Ezra, and others returned to the promised land to rebuild the temple and the wall around Jerusalem. I admired their dedication and determination in building the physical wall, but I was troubled by the intangible walls which they built between themselves and their neighbors. I believe they would have been better off if they had been more accommodating of the former inhabitants of the land. Ironically, they wouldn’t have been there at all without the accommodation of King Cyrus, who modeled respect for the diverse religious beliefs of his people.
When Jesus visited the American continent, He established some boundaries around church membership and participation in the sacrament, but He also made it clear that those boundaries were not impermeable: “Unto such shall ye continue to minister,” He said, “for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them” (3 Nephi 18:32).
Even as we erect reasonable boundaries in our relationships, we need to find ways to open doors and to create opportunities for relationships to grow.
2. Most of the service we need to perform is neither dramatic nor conspicuous.
I had previously been impressed with the Israelite tradition of gleaning—allowing the poor to gather grain left over from the harvesting process. But as I watched Ruth relocate with her mother-in-law Naomi to the city of Bethlehem, I became impressed with the gleaners: unpretentious individuals who were willing to do menial labor to support their families.
I learned the same principle from the servant of Naaman’s wife, a young Israelite woman who had been captured by the Syrians. She couldn’t heal her master, but she knew who could. Her role was to connect him with the prophet Elisha, by expressing a heartfelt yearning: “Would God My Lord Were With the Prophet!”
And I sensed the same modest diligence in Esther’s cousin, Mordecai. He was a constant presence in her book, but always in a supportive role. I learned from him that the most influential person isn’t always the most visible, and that we can find joy through contributing in relatively inconspicuous ways.
These three Old Testament characters reminded me of three Book of Mormon characters: Ammon the missionary, who quietly went about his duty after experiencing a dramatic miracle, Ammon the messenger, who told king Limhi that he couldn’t translate an ancient text, but he knew someone who could, and Gideon, a trusted advisor to King Limhi who was comfortable contributing without being the center of attention.
3. God’s love for us is constant and reliable.
God addressed Gideon as a “mighty man of valour,” when Gideon saw himself only as “the least in my father’s house.” But as God later taught Samuel, He sees more than we can see: He sees our hearts. Furthermore, He can open our eyes and help us see ourselves and others as He sees us.
When we feel alone, as did Elijah, God can help us recognize that there are like-minded people in the world who will support us. If we feel forgotten or forsaken, the scriptures can remind us, as they reminded Nehemiah, that God does not forget His children and that He will honor His covenants. In fact, one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is “that [we] may know the covenants of the Lord, that [we] are not cast off forever” (Title Page).
David, Solomon, and Ezra all led their people in acknowledging that God is good, reciting the following phrase: “his mercy endureth for ever.” We can always count on God’s love. It is reliable. It is permanent. Nothing in this world can make Him stop loving us.