Everyone has their own relationship with their scriptures. For some, the scriptures are a collection of stories, Christ at the well, Jonah and the big fish, etc. For others, their scriptures are a source for doctrines, the Atonement, the judgment, etc. For others the scriptures are a sleep aid (Isaiah). I would like to suggest that you entertain a new perspective on your scriptures, that of your personal Urim and Thummim.
Urim and Thummim
As far back as Leviticus 8:8 we have mention of the two stones the Lord gave to the prophets to reveal things that could not be known in any other way. “And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim.” In the Guide to the Scriptures we have this description of the Urim and Thummim.
Instruments prepared by God to assist man in obtaining revelation and in translating languages. In the Hebrew language the words mean “lights and perfections.” The Urim and Thummim consist of two stones set in silver bows and sometimes used with a breastplate (D&C 17:1; JS—H 1:35, 42, 52). This earth will become a great Urim and Thummim in its sanctified and immortal state (D&C 130:6–9).
In the Book of Mormon king Limhi was looking for the people of Zarahemla so they could escape their captivity to the Lamanites. He sent men out to find Zarahemla. They didn’t find it, but they did find the remnants of the Jaredite civilization, including 24 gold plates in an unknown language. When Ammon, from Zarahemla, found the people of Limhi, the king rejoiced that the people of Zarahemla still existed, and that perhaps there was someone who could translate the plates they found. Ammon told him that Mosiah had the Urim and Thummim that would allow him to read the plates and know their meaning.
13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
The only catch was that he had to wait until he was commanded by God to use the Urim and Thummim. That happened about 29 years later, a year or so before Mosiah died.
Now, lest you think I am going to assert that reading your scriptures will allow you to translate ancient languages, I say at the outset that this is NOT true. But the Urim and Thummim were designed to bring to light knowledge that is otherwise hidden, and sometimes that requires translation of languages long since dead. All scriptures are designed to bring to light knowledge that is not found anywhere else. I want to focus on the part of the sentence quoted previously that says, “Instruments prepared by God to assist man in obtaining revelation …”
How prophets describe scriptures
Elder Robert D. Hales described the scriptures, specifically the Book of Mormon, this way. (The talk references are at the bottom of this article, along with a link to the podcast of this article so you can listen to it.)
Will you open with me the cover of the Book of Mormon? Look on the title page. We read that it is “written by way of commandment, … by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.” It has “come forth by the gift and power of God,” and its interpretation is “by the gift of God”—by the Holy Ghost. It shows “what great things the Lord [has] done” and has given to us “that [we] may know the covenants of the Lord,” that we might not be “cast off forever.” Most importantly, it has been written to convince us “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.”
He goes on to give an example of what Lehi himself learned about the importance of the scriptures as he studied the brass plates Nephi brought back from Jerusalem.
As Lehi searched the plates, he learned what all of us learn by studying the scriptures:
- Who we are.
- What we can become.
- Prophecies for us and for our posterity.
- The commandments, laws, ordinances, and covenants we must live by to obtain eternal life.
- And how we must live in order to endure to the end and return to our Heavenly Father with honor.
So essential are these truths that Heavenly Father gave both Lehi and Nephi visions vividly representing the word of God as a rod of iron. Both father and son learned that holding to this strong, unbending, utterly reliable guide is the only way to stay on that strait and narrow path that leads to our Savior.
Here is a small portion of a Conference talk given by President Howard W. Hunter. Some of this information is also found in a lesson in the Relief Society and Priesthood manual for 2016.
When we follow the counsel of our leaders to read and study the scriptures, benefits and blessings of many kinds come to us. This is the most profitable of all study in which we could engage. The portion of scripture known as the Old and New Testaments is often referred to as the great literature of the world. These books have been regarded as scientific treatises, as philosophic dissertations, and also as historical records; but if we understand the true purpose of these and other scriptures, we realize that they are really the fundamental literature of religion.
The scriptural library contains the basic declarations concerning God and his children and the interrelationship between them. Throughout each of the books there is an appeal to believe and have faith in God the Eternal Father and in his son, Jesus Christ; and from the first to the last of these books of scripture is the call to do the will of God and keep his commandments.
Scriptures contain the record of the self-revelation of God, and through them God speaks to man. Where could there be more profitable use of time than reading from the scriptural library the literature that teaches us to know God and understand our relationship to him?
Let’s recap what just these two brethren have said about what we can expect when we read the scriptures:
- Scriptures reveal to us the commandments and covenants of the Lord that will protect us from being cast off forever.
- Scriptures are written to convince us “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.”
- Scriptures teach us how we must live in order to be able to endure to the end.
- Scriptures are the most profitable of all study in which we could engage.
- Our Scriptures are the “fundamental literature of religion.”
- In each of our books of scripture “is the call to do the will of God and keep his commandments.”
- “Scriptures contain the record of the self-revelation of God, and through them God speaks to man.”
- Scriptures teach us”to know God and understand our relationship to him.”
How scriptures describe scriptures
In Alma the Younger’s instructions to his son, Helaman, Alma says this (Alma 37:8):
8 And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
Alma continues in verse 14 to assure his son that scriptures are not just meant for one generation, but that through the scriptures the Lord can bless the lives of people in future generations as well. This shows us that the principles and teachings found in the scriptures are not confined to isolated people or instances, but are universal in their scope and application.
14 And now remember, my son, that God has entrusted you with these things, which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations.
The scriptures teach us that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). They teach us that current philosophies that most modern societies have embraced are false and will lead to sorrow and destruction. See Alma 30:17-18. The list of things we can learn from the scriptures is almost too long to write, let alone in a short article.
My point in writing this article is to show that we get into a rut when it comes to how we view our scriptures. The scriptures are a collection of stories. They are a collection of doctrine. They are many things, but they are more than any one of the things we think they are.
Nephi said, “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:3) When we are confused or discouraged, lost or lonely, the scriptures have answers to our questions. The secret is in the searching and in the asking. The answers are in the pondering and the praying over what we have read.
The scriptures enlarge our memory by showing us how God has dealt with our ancestors and with others who came before us. We learn from studying the scriptures his interactions with his people, and that the Lord is consistent from generation to generation. His love never flags, never falters, never fails. His promises are sure. We learn from our studies that the statement in Amos 3:7 that “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” is not only true, but true from generation to generation from Adam’s day to the end of days.
The scriptures are a source of revelation, our personal Urim and Thummim, if you will. By studying the scriptures and likening their teachings and principles to our own lives and our own situations, we can gain a new perspective and have answers and ideas revealed to us through the revelations of the Holy Ghost. This makes the scriptures a living thing, not just something that is the repository of old, dead information. Everything about the scriptures is relevant and applicable. The words of Christ are found throughout their pages, and we should be hungry for them, for they truly will show us all things we should do.
Holy Scriptures: The Power of God unto Our Salvation
Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
President Howard W. Hunter