Education Week: Finding lessons in often-skipped scripture stories

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One of Education Week’s Tuesday morning sessions included BYU associate professor of ancient scripture Tyler J. Griffin’s lecture on “Often-skipped scripture stories that can bless individuals, couples, and families today.”

Griffin focused on simple verses and stories in the Old Testament that can sometimes be overlooked. He mentioned the importance of looking for “external symbols, types, (and) shadows” to help with the application of scriptures and stories.

One example Griffin highlighted was the great lengths to which God gives details to describe the tabernacle. Griffin encouraged listeners to ask themselves, “What does that mean for me?”

A possible answer Griffin gave is that if God gives so much detail to one thing, how great the detail he has given his children. Griffin encouraged listeners to think of the gifts God has given them.

“The problem that we have in mortality is that we fall into the trap of always comparing,” Griffin said.

To combat this temptation, Griffin said it is important to recognize the gifts received from God and ask him how to work and grow those.

Griffin quoted Sister Patricia Holland when she said, “Our Father in heaven needs us as we are, as we are growing to become. He has intentionally made us different from one another so that even with our imperfections we can fulfill his purposes. My greatest misery comes when I feel I have to fit what others are doing, or what I think others expect of me. I am most happy when I am comfortable being me and trying to do what my Father in heaven and I expect me to be.”

Another scriptural passage Griffin highlighted was Numbers 2:3, which reads, “And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch throughout their armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah.”

Griffin explained how the biblical tribe of Judah was set up east of the entrance to the tabernacle and the tribe of Ephraim was west of it — referenced in Numbers 2:18. He added how it is interesting to note that Jesus Christ comes in the east, signifying all looking to Jesus — and in this instance looking to the tribe of Judah in the east. Then on the Mount of Ascension, the final commandment Jesus Christ gives to his apostles is to go into all the world preaching the gospel.

Griffin explained how God’s commandment to preach the gospel to the Gentiles could be an application of the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh in the west — the church in the latter days — given the call to preach the gospel.

Griffin emphasized that he isn’t declaring doctrine but rather “thinking out loud” to see how these verses can be applied today.

The next insight he provided was in Number 4:4–13. These verses talk about cloths and coverings placed over things in the tabernacle and in the holy of holies.

Griffin said these verses show how the most sacred object of the entire camp of Israel — the ark of the covenant — is covered first with a veil, then with skins of some kind of animal, and then covered with a blue cloth.

“We cover those things following this pattern,” Griffin said. “And it’s a beautiful principle that I think carries with us.”

Applying these verses to today, Griffin taught how discussing modesty in terms of scripture can help people understand its importance.

Griffin quoted Elder Boyd K. Packer when he said, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”

Continuing to explain these verses, Griffin said the colors of the cloths have deeper meanings. Blue represents the heavens and scarlet represents blood, sacrifice, mortality, earth, and death. But, in verse 13, Griffin asked listeners what color of cloth covered the altar of sacrifice.

Griffin said he “can’t speak with authority” about why they chose the color purple, but he thinks it’s interesting that for Jesus Christ’s time period, purple carried a lot of meaning because it was such a hard color to create and was therefore meant for royalty.

Today, purple carries additional symbolism because blue and red are combined to create purple, according to Griffin. Jesus Christ becomes the heavenly sacrifice, according to the symbolism each color represents.

Griffin’s next often-skipped scripture story took listeners to 1 Samuel 13 and 14 with the story of Jonathan.

Explaining the baseline of the story, Griffin said there were the Philistines with a throng of 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and people as the sands of the sea versus 600 people on Jonathan’s side hiding with only sticks and stones to defend themselves. One day, Jonathan comes to a realization and says to his armor bearer that they have God on their side and instead of hiding, they should go up — just the two of them — and God would deliver them.

Griffin then referenced 1 Samuel 14:10, which says, “But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the Lord hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be a sign unto us.”

Griffin said he loves this scripture story because of what it must have been like to witness these two people on their hands and knees climbing this steep embankment to fight the Philistines, with Jonathan’s armor bearer behind him saying as in 1 Samuel 14:7, “Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.”

When they get there and kill only 20 men, Griffin explained that God recognized Jonathan’s and the armor bearer’s faith and stepped in by causing a great earthquake which resulted in the Philistines fighting each other.

Griffin then applied this story to the present day. He encouraged listeners that if something in their life feels like they have this big army against them, and they think they don’t have what they need to overcome the Philistines of today to remember that God didn’t intend for Jonathan and his armor bearer to fight by themselves. He just needed them to take some serious steps forward in faith.

“As we go through life,” Griffin said. “If we’ll just take that extra little step to pause and say ‘Timeout. How is this my story? I don’t want to just read his story … I want to find my story.'”

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