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How We Taught This Lesson in the Past: Lesson 8: Living Righteously in a Wicked World

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 14, 2010

The second of the three Abraham lessons in the current manual focuses on episodes in Abraham’s life which illustrate the do’s and don’t’s the modern church teaches for “living righteously in a wicked world.” The 1965 Gospel Doctrine manual on “Patriarchs of the Old Testament” does not divide its lessons on Abraham in quite the same way, but much of the material in its pages does correspond to points promoted by the current manual.

Abraham: Called to Be Father of the Faithful

Concept

The “call” of Abraham was a call to the same basic mission as that given to the Old Testament prophets and priests, the Saviour and His apostles, and our latter-day prophets and missionaries – the implementing of the concept that God’s plan of life for man, given first to a nucleus of people, shall in due time be offered for the acceptance of all who will hear it.

Basic Scriptural Sources

Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-9. This is the basic information about the relationship of God with Abraham and the covenant whose blessings are to be made available to all.

Abraham 1; 2:1-13; 3:22, 23. Helpful clarification as to why Abraham was called, when and where his call came, and what he and his descendants were to do.

Supplementary Reading

Note the honor and significance attached to the name of Abraham in such New Testament references as the following samples: Luke 1:52-55; 16;20-31; John 8:32-58; Matthew 8:11; Galatians 3.

Much information on Abraham and on the nature and transmission of the authority of God may be found in such scripture as Doctrine and Covenants 98:32; 101:4; 103:17; 109:64; 110:12; 124:19, 58; 132:29-37; 84:6-34.

Reference to the revelation of “the gospel” (i.e. the divine plan for the redemption and salvation of man) to Abraham may also be found in the teachings of modern prophets, such as Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Deseret Book Co., 1961), p. 31, or Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding smith (Deseret Book Co. 1958), p. 60.

A convenient collection of quotations concerning the priesthood held by Melchizedek and Abraham is provided in Priesthood and church government, compiled by John A. Widtsoe (Deseret Book Co., 1954), pp. 6-12.

Study Questions

1. What did Abraham do on his own initiative toward becoming a religious reformer? What were the sources of his information about a better way of life and a better concept of God than that extant in the culture around him? At what point in his preparation did God’s first revelation and instruction come to him? What was the origin and nature of his spiritual preparation and qualification for the call?

2. Where did Abraham live when he first established contact with God? To what place had he migrated when he received further revelation and direction from the Lord telling him of the land where his later descendants would live? Did he know what land he was going to, when he stated on his divinely directed journey?

3. How was Abraham authorized to minister in God’s work on earth, bearing His name and priesthood? (What was he given by direct revelation, and with what was he endowed by an earthly servant of God?)

4. What are the blessings which he and his seed were to bring to all families and nations of the earth? When will that mission be fulfilled and completed? Are all people reached by it during earth-life?

5. Could it be truly said that all scripture is a record of man’s efforts, his successes and failings, in attempting to fulfill this mission, with the record of God’s guidance, correction and help toward that end?

6. What is our mission?

Commentary

Abraham was a reformer. Reformers are, of course (as was observed in Noah’s case), opposed to and opposed by the institutions they seek to reform. A reformer may lose his life in seeking the improvements which he desires In society, and Abraham very nearly did so. In his own record he twice asserts that the people of the “land of the Chaldeans,” the land of his fathers, “utterly refused to hearken” to his voice because of their having turned away “unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen.” To these “dumb idols,” as Abraham disparagingly calls them, the people of his time and homeland were offering “men, women, and children.” He mentions in particular three virgins of ‘the royal descent directly from the loins of ham’ who were offered up ‘because of their virtue; they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or stone.” (Abraham 1:1-12.) He tells us that the sacerdotal leaders sought also to slay him as they had slain those virgins, and we presume it was because he had also refused to bow down and worship as they demanded – and they in turn had refused to hearken to his remonstrances.

Why Abraham Was “Called”

Abraham, or Abram, as he was known at first, sought and found the true religion in spite of the decadence of his times. He sought the blessings, rights and powers enjoyed by “the fathers,” whose records he had somehow inherited (Abraham 1;28, 31), that he himself might become a follower of righteousness and become a patriarch and prince of peace. He was successful, for he records that he “became a rightful heir, a High priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” As to the time and circumstances of his receiving these things, he does not inform us. If he received the records before he received the priesthood, as seems likely, we may well understand how he was motivated and guided in his desires and efforts to improve himself and his contemporaries as he perused the accounts of events from his own time back to the Creation.

As to the source of his ordination to the priesthood, it has been revealed in latter days that Melchizedek, King of Salem, King of Peace, ordained him. (Doctrine and Covenants 84:14.) That it was done upon an occasion of Abram’s contact with Melchizedek upon his return from retrieving the booty and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah from the conquering eastern kings, years after he settled in Canaan (Genesis 14:1-20), hardly seems likely. He was promised the priesthood on an early occasion when the Lord saved him from the idolatrous priest who tried to sacrifice him in Ur. That the promise was fulfilled after his call came in Haran might be supposed, in view of the purpose of the Lord therein stated when he said: “… I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee …” (Abraham 2:6.) However, it is also quite as possible that he already had the authority of the priesthood and that only his mission was anticipated by the wording of the call.

In any case he was called, chosen and anointed to be Patriarch of a long line of patriarchs and prophetic promulgators of the proper doctrines and practices of God’s good way of life. he was called to this function and status not only because he was one of the “noble and great ones” among the spirits existing before the earth was formed (Abraham 3:22, 23), but also because here on earth he qualified constantly for the confidence of the Lord. Once the Lord said of him: “… I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment; …” (Genesis 18:19.) Later, the Lord commended his example to Isaac, saying, “… Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:5.)

What Was He to Do for His Times – And for Ours?

The “call” of Abraham as first mentioned in Genesis (12:1-3) is an invitation to follow the Lord’s directions to a new home and a new life, with which is associated the promise of a land, posterity, aid and sustenance. Those who aid him in the cause shall be blessed and they who obstruct shall be cursed, according to the promise. The purpose of the call is hinted in the last sentence: “… in thee [and in thy seed] shall all families of the earth be blessed.’ (italics ours.) Further clarification of it is found in the record of Abraham himself in which he reports that he and his descendants are to hold the priesthood of God – the authority to act in His name and employ His power. This privilege is not merely for the benefit of the bearers. Through their ministry the name of God is to be made known in the earth forever. Abram was thus made both patriarch and evangelist, for a patriarch is a “ruling father” while an evangelist is one who promulgates the “Gospel” or good news of god’s way of life and salvation. The last portion of the revelation as he records it is explicit on this:

… In their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; and I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, … and in thy seed after thee … shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. (Abraham 2:8-11.)

The nature of the ministry of the family of Abram was well understood by Paul in New Testament times, for he wrote reassuringly to his gentile converts in Galatia:

Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. so then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. … For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:7-9, 26, 27, 29.)

It is apparent that we also are involved in this same ministry and responsibility. All who in our day have been baptized by those having the same authority as Abraham (and the same as Peter, Paul, and others like them) and all who themselves bear that authority, are likewise called to bear to others the Lord’s name and power to bless, until every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 88:104). “Every member a missionary” is an old responsibility renewed to us today.

Abraham: “Friend of God”

Concept

No man is perfect, and the Old testament depicts none of its heroes as such. On the other hand, the virtues of such a one as Abraham and his qualifications asa great servant of the Lord stand out in the old testament.

Basic Scriptural sources

Genesis 12-14. Narrative material. Even if it is familiar to you, don’t skim over the details; some of them are often neglected.

Abraham 2. As before noted, this source complements the Genesis account.

Supplementary Reading

All through the study of the series of chapters on Abraham, it will be well to continue reviewing such sources as suggested in the supplementary Reading section [above].

Some samples of Old Testament allusions to Abraham and to his promises from the Lord may be seen in Exodus 33:1; Numbers 32:11; Deuteronomy 1:8; 6:10; 30:20; Psalms 47:9; 105:6, 9, 42; Isaiah 51:2; 63:16; Ezekiel 33:23-26. Note that the promised land was preserved to the descendants of Abraham only insofar as they were worthy of divine protection in it. To be worthy of it they had to do the work of Abraham.

Study questions

1. In the account of the journey of Abram’s clan toward Canaan, is there any evidence that he had begun to do the missionary work to which he and his people were called? (The regular trade route would have taken them through Damascus; watch for later evidence that they may have done some proselyting there.)

2. The Lord has indicated in modern scripture that it is a grievous failing to man to be uncognizant of and ungrateful for blessings received. is there any evidence that Abram had this failing? For what purpose, evidently, did he build several camp-site altars en route?

3. How did the Lord make known to Abram the location of the land which his descendants would inherit? Why did he leave it and move to Egypt?

4. In evaluating Abram’s behavior in Egypt, consider the following: Why did he identify his wife only by their blood relationship at first? For whose sake did he give only part of the facts at first? What evidence is there that in time he built up good relationships with the Pharaoh? What could have been the purpose of this manner of procedure?

5. Upon return to the high country of Canaan, when conflict arose over grazing land for the numerous flocks and herds of Abram and Lot, who proposed a solution to the conflict-situation? What did he proffer? What do you think of Lot’s choice?

6. How did Lot’s choice of a place to live bring him into trouble? Did Abram look upon the misfortune as just retribution for Lot? Did Abram seem concerned about the causes of Lot’s misfortune, the justification of it, or indeed about his own jeopardy? For what did he show concern?

7. In Abram’s recruiting his neighbors, his organizing and undertaking rescue operations, and his manner of attacking vastly superior forces, what qualities and characteristics do you note in him?

8. Had Abram supplicated the Lord in undertaking his rescue operation? What evidence do we have that he had communicated with Him? Why did he refuse the reward of the king whose people he had saved? How did he show gratitude to God? Who received his offering? Is there any previous mention of tithing?

9. Who and what was Melchizedek? What evidence does Genesis leave us that he was a great man? What additional facts concerning his status and calling do we learn from other scriptures?> What was the nature of the ordinance he administered?

Commentary

How Abram Began His Work
(Genesis 12; Abraham 2)

So it was that Abram having earlier been saved by the Lord from death as a victim of idolatrous sacrifice in Ur of Chaldea, and having departed from there according to the Lord’s instructions, settled temporarily in upper Mesopotamia. he continued obedient to the further instructions of the Lord, and leaving behind those of his father’s house who had established themselves in the land they called “Haran,” he moved on toward the land of Canaan. With his entourage were the “souls that they had gotten in Haran” (Genesis 12:5). As to how they had “obtained” some additional souls, the Hebrew account is perhaps a little clearer, referring to them as “the souls they had made”; Abraham’s account is more explicit still:

And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea, and Lot, my brother’s son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our way. (Abraham 2;15, italics ours.)

En route Abram built an altar at Jershon, where he offered sacrifice and supplicated the Lord’s blessings upon members of his father’s house he had left behind in Haran. At Shechem in the middle of the land of Canaan the Lord appeared and confirmed the promise that this would in the future be the land of Abram’s posterity. Abram there built another altar and offered an offering (doubtless in thanksgiving) to the Lord. He moved on to the environs of Bethel and Hai, where he again built an altar to the Lord and called upon His name. this devotion to the Lord, and this habit of maintaining communication with Him, remained consistent apparently throughout Abram’s life. It is doubtless one of the reasons of the name by which he was later called: “Father of the faithful.”

It is assumed by some expositors of the scriptures that a weakness of Abram – a bad trait of character – was shown in the episode next recounted about his activities. If the matter be assessed in light of only a part of the facts, such a conclusion could be drawn. it is however never fair nor honest to adjudge anything good or bad on the basis only of “supporting” facts.

The account states that because of famine in Canaan, Abram and his clan had to move temporarily to Egypt. Because his wife was fair and desirable, he feared he might well be killed and his wife taken by another. Under inspiration from the Lord (Abraham 2:22, 23) Abram asked her to identify herself only by their blood relationship, and not to mention their marital relationship, for the good of both of them, as he said: “… that it may be well with me for thy sake.” (Genesis 12:13. Italics ours.)

Concerning their blood relationship, it is evident (Abraham 2:2; Genesis 11:29) that in our language we would speak of Sarai as Abram’s niece, and of Lot as his nephew; when he spoke of them as his sister and his brother (Genesis 13:8; see also 20;12) he was not, however, being inaccurate according to their language and idiom. Early Hebrew does not employ words for “nephew,” “niece,” “granddaughter,” etc. Sarai, being what we would call the granddaughter of Abram’s father, was called in their language his “daughter”; so also would any direct descendant be called, no matter how many generations removed. Speaking genealogically she was a daughter of the same father-line as Abram (her mother-line of course was the line of the wife of he father Haran) and in these terms she was therefore a sister to Abram.

By the time Pharaoh learned (by reason of divine intervention) that Sarai was indeed Abram’s wife his attitude toward Abram was such that he apparently did not feel inclined to put him to death. Instead, he sent him out of Egypt rich in flocks and herds and in silver and gold. Judging by this fact, and by one hint from an illustration in the Book of Abraham showing “Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand,” it is evident that in the course of his sojourn in the Pharaoh’s land Abram had gained considerable status with the monarch. In the picture “Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of astronomy, in the king’s court.” He is flanked by the monarch, and faced by the royal prince and pat of his retinue. (See Facsimile No. 3, at the end of the book of Abraham). [Several “principles of astronomy” revealed to Abraham by the Lord are interestingly recorded in chapter 3 of Abraham’s book, including the general principle (now evident to modern scientists) that an ascending order among heavenly bodies subordinates one body or group to that next above it and so on until a grand central governing body is reached.]

It might be well to note in passing that a later episode involving Abram and his wife with King Abimelech of Gerar (Genesis 20) is quite similar to this one involving the Pharaoh. In it the Lord intervened to prevent Abimelech’s undue and unjustifiable humiliation.

Exemplary Acts and Resultant Achievements
(Genesis 13; 14)

Evidences of the character and capacities of this unusual servant of the Lord are better seen in his actions incident to an episode in which Lot’s selfish choice brought Lot into trouble. conflict had arisen between the headers of the flocks and herds of Abram and those of Lot. Abram proposed a solution so that strife might be avoided between them as “brothers”: he allowed Lot to take his choice of all available territory, Abram contenting himself with the remainder. Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the Jordan valley, well watered everywhere “like the garden of the Lord,” and chose it. he settled in it, pitching his tent eventually next to Sodom. That he was headed for trouble is sufficiently hinted in the scripture writer’s observation: “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.”

As if to reassure Abram that he had lost nothing by his generous action, the Lord spoke again to him promising that all the land would eventually belong to his numerous posterity. Abram settled peacefully by the oaks of Mamre, his neighbor, at Hebron. (Genesis 13:18; 14:13, 24; 23:19; 35:27.)

Trouble came to Lot as a coalition of kings from city-states in Mesopotamia came to subdue their vassal cities in the Valley of Siddim, or the Salt Sea, which were in rebellion after thirteen years under tribute. The coalition captured all the people (including Lot) except for a few refugees (who included the King of Sodom) and they seized and carried off all movable property. When Abram heard of it from a fugitive, he might reasonably have thought: “It is just; this thing is come upon Lot because of his greed and foolishness.” But no such response is indicated. Instead, Abram assembled a small command of 318 educated young men, who were members of his clan, along with men of three neighboring clans which had joined by covenant with him. This little commando force pursued the forces of the four kings northward about 150 miles (to Dan). There Abram showed both courage and ingenuity by dividing his task force, attacking by night, and harassing the disorganized retreating troops for nearly forty miles, almost to Damascus. Then he returned, gathered up all the captive people and property, and proceeded homeward.

Evidently he had supplicated the aid of the Lord, and had vowed that even though his expedition was a success he would take nothing in spoil to enrich himself. He told the king of Sodom, who came out of hiding to meet him and offer him compensation, that he had lifted up his hand to them most high God not to take so much as a thread or shoe-lace from the king in order that the latter could not say he had made Abram rich. Only that which his young men had eaten and that with which he compensated the others who had accompanied him did he take, over and above the tenth, or tithing; and this tenth, with gratitude to the Lord, he gave into the hands of Melchizedek, priest of the Most High.

Melchizedek, the Great High Priest
(Genesis 14:18-20)

We could wish we had a few pages out of the book of remembrance of Melchizedek. The portion of Abraham’s record we have in the Pearl of Great Price does not extend to cover this episode, and the brief account by Moses (in Genesis) merely mentions Melchizedek. Evidently there were other accounts still extant in New Testament times, with more details, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Chapters 5, 6, and 7) writes of the superiority of the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek over the Aaronic, and identifies Jesus Himself as a “high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Hebrews 6:20.) He correctly interprets the name “Melchizedek” to mean “King of Righteousness,” and the title “King of Salem” to mean “King of Peace.” The place called Salem was of course the same which is later called Jerusalem. As the name is rendered in Akkadian, “Uru-Salimu,” Jerusalem would indeed mean “City of Peace.”

Evidently also the scriptural record on brass carried form Jerusalem by Nephi and preserved among the Nephites contained a few details about this great priest-king. alma (see Alma 130 in a dissertation on the priesthood “after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years,” indicated that the priesthood power existed “from the foundation of the world; or in other words, [was] without beginning of days or end of years, …” and that it was possessed by Melchizedek, and is available to all who are properly prepared for it from before the foundation of the world. Of this great man he says:

Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; but Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem. … (Alma 13:17, 18.)

Though the scriptures do not tell us when it was done, the high priesthood of the priest-king Melchizedek was conferred, as before noted, upon Abram. (Doctrine and covenants 84:14; see also Abraham 1:1-4.) It is indicated that, preceding the payment of tithing by Abram, Melchizedek blessed him, saying, “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.” (Genesis 14:19, 20.) It is also said that he brought out bread and wine on that occasion, which may be presumed to have been for the purpose of a ceremonial meal. Bread and wine later were important components of the ceremonial meal of the Passover, and much later the same things were blessed and administered by Jesus as the Sacrament to be partaken in memory of His sacrifice. The scriptures give no indication however as to the significance or purpose of the bread and wine dispensed by Melchizedek.

It is noteworthy that this man who was so important in Abram’s career was indeed so important in the program of the Lord on this earth that the power of God delegated to man properly called “the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the son of God” has for centuries been called the “Melchizedek Priesthood,” in honor of Melchizedek’s greatness, and in order to avoid the too frequent repetition of the divine name. (Doctrine and Covenants 107:1-4.)

Abraham: Problem of Progeny

Concept

In trying to help themselves and in gaining the Lord’s help, in solving the problem of progeny to implement their covenant with God, Abraham and Sarah provide us with several examples of Deity and man working together and indicate some theological principles upon which we still may depend.

Basic Scriptural Sources

Genesis 15-17; 18:1-15; 21:1-7. Straightforward narrative material. Read thoughtfully, looking for truths you can use.

Supplementary Reading

A one-volume Bible commentary, such as the dependable old classic by that title edited by J.R. Dummelow and still available to bookstores both in new and used copies, can be very helpful in clarifying abstruse phrases, allusions to strange customs, and other problematical passages in Old Testament readings. Remember in using such aids that their explanations are not necessarily law and Gospel: interpret and accept them in the light of the Gospel as you have it. A conservative commentary such as Dummelow’s is to a very great extent harmonious with the LDS point of view in most cases.

Leaders of Israel, a brief history of the Hebrew people by George L. Robinson and republished by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, in 1955, is a good example of another type of book that is helpful to the Old Testament student. It is a sort of combination commentary and interpretive retold story. Read alongside the scriptures, it an be helpful.

None of the sources referred to throughout this manual nor the Commentary section of the chapters themselves should be used without, or in substitution for, scripture study.

Study Questions

1. What was the major basis for worry on the part of Abram and Sarai with regard to the problem of posterity? What did Abram think might be the practical solution to the problem? What did Sarai offer as a solution? Why did the Lord not accept either of these legitimate solutions as the proper avenue to posterity and an heir for them?

2. What was Abram’s immediate response to the Lord’s reiterated promise that in their old age they still would have a son? Why then is it said “Abram believed the Lord, and it was counted to him for righteousness”?

3. What is the importance of the promise of a land wherein Abram’s descendants could dwell? Why was it given four hundred years before the time would be right for fulfillment? Upon what principle does the Lord remove one people and establish another in a choice land? Can this all be conceived within the framework of your concept of His justice and mercy?

4. What good examples are here available of the Lord’s availability to help and His willingness to do so (a) in the case of Abram and Sarai? (b) in the case of Hagar? Is He still indeed a “living one who seeth” us?

5. Why do several alternate names of God occur in the scriptures? What qualities and capacities of Deity are suggested by one occurring in this narrative at the time He identified Himself to Abram and commanded him to walk properly before Him and be “perfect”?

6. Why were Abram’s and Sarai’s names changed? (Note that this is not an isolated phenomenon; we shall become aware of several people with alternate names in the scriptures.) What was the appropriate meaning of their new names?

7. Is it the covenant one makes with God as a descendant or heir of Abraham that is eternal, or the sign of his acceptance of the covenant? What was the sign of the covenant of Abraham’s day? How does baptism serve a similar purpose as the sign of a covenant?

8. What kind of beings were they that wee sent to God to visit Abraham, that he could wash their feet and feed them mortal food? Whoever they were, were they officially able to speak for the Lord?

9. What was the possible double meaning of Isaac’s name? Was it appropriate?

Commentary

It is understandable that Abram would wonder about the problem of progeny and succession in view of the fact that after eighty-five years of life he still had no children. He had been promised posterity enough to constitute a “great nation,” with individuals as innumerable as is the dust of the earth. (Genesis 12:2; 13:16.) Self-reliant, though never insubordinate, Abram received reiteration of the promise of protection and reward in a vision from the Lord and he asked frankly what the Lord could give him in view of his childlessness. he knew that normally, according to custom, a son born in his household to one of his servants could be his heir. But once again the promise of a son of his own, and descendants of his own as numerous as the stars, was reiterated, and Abram believed in the promise. Because of such reactions his faith has always been counted to him as evidence of righteousness. (Genesis 15:6; cf. Galatians 3:6.)

Cognizant that his descendants could not inherit the land in his own lifetime, Abram asked wherein he might know that he would possess it. In reply, the Lord directed him to prepare an unusual symbolic sacrifice of three animals, two females and one ale, each three years old, along with a turtledove and a young pigeon. The animal carcasses were divided though those of the birds were not. Carrion birds were driven off by Abram until he fell into a deep sleep and “the terror of great darkness.” Doubtless the sacrifice was somehow significant of Abram’s status as father and patriarch of a covenant people whose special mission was to make known the covenants of salvation of the lord to all men, but we are not told all of the details.

He was informed by revelation that his descendants would be temporary dwellers in lands not their own for four hundred years, and would become servants, suffering oppression. Eventually the nation oppressing them would be punished and Abram’s descendants would go out from thence, having great substance. After four hundred years, and in the fourth generation, they would come at last to the land promised them. The reason given for their inheriting the land at the later time rather than in Abram’s own lifetime was significantly explained: the Amorite inhabitants of his day did not deserve to be dispossessed – the iniquity of their ways was not yet “full.” When it became so, it would be with them as later it would be with Israel in the same land (or with the inhabitants of modern America). [Leviticus 18:28; Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 6:18; cf. I Nephi 17:33-35. Concerning America in our day, see Ether 2:7-10.] In all cases the principle upon which the Lord operates is the same: so long as a people are worthy of His protection ad help, He will preserve them in their homeland; when they are not He will let nature take its course with them, or indeed will send more deserving people to disinherit them. We could hardly suppose it would be otherwise. How could we hope to be blessed and protected if we were to reject every covenant of God and become ripe in iniquity?

But with all of the promises of a glorious future, Abram and Sarai still had their problem: they were aged and had no children. How could they get an heir? Abraham “believed the Lord” when He made those promises, but apparently he and his wife also believed that “the Lord helps those that help themselves.” Sarai proposed the legitimate measure of permitting her handmaid Hagar to bear a son for her to her husband. (This institution was current among neighbors of the Biblical people too, as we know from abundant cuneiform records, especially the Nuzu tablets.) However, this was not the way an heir to Abram’s birthright was to come. Moreover, conflict and near tragedy arose from the sequels to this “solution,” for when the handmaid saw that she was indeed to be blessed with a child she took it as evidence that she was blessed and her mistress, contrariwise, was cursed. (This concept about bearing children is shown throughout the Old Testament; it is in no way unique with Hagar. See e.g. Genesis 30:1; I Samuel 1:1-20.) Such an attitude on Hagar’s part was intolerable to Sarai who felt that through her condescension she had been imposed upon. When she expressed her feeling to Abram, he gave her leave to adjust the matter in whatever way was “good in thy eyes.” (So the Hebrew reads where the common English says, “do to her as it pleaseth thee.”) Sarai punished her, and she fled.

A good example of Old Testament theology is seen in the account oft the consequence of these actions. Hagar went toward Egypt by way of the desert wilderness called Shur, and stopped en route by a spring where the Lord’s messenger intercepted her. Speaking for the Lord, he bade her return and promised her a son, who would be like the wild asses of the hunt – alluding perhaps to the freedom, the vivacity and alacrity of that little animal. his name should be Ishmael (“God will hear”) to teach her the lesson that God will hear and act when our needs come up before Him. She was duly impressed that he unto whom she had looked was indeed a “God who sees,” and named the spring where she was Beer-lahai-roi (“Well-of-the-Living-One-Seeing-Me”). Hagar did return, and she bore her child, Abram’s firstborn son, when Abram was eighty-six; and they called his name Ishmael.

But Ishmael was not born to be the birthright heir of Abram, for God’s promise to Abram and Sarai was really not fulfilled in him.

Then came the final steps in preparing Abram to become Abraham, father of a multitude of faithful in the earth. In the next recorded revelation, thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, the Lord again appeared to Abram. He identified Himself as the All-sufficient (El Shaddai), and bade Abram; “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” The admonishment recalls to the mind of one who knows of the patriarchs of old that Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Noah had “walked with God: and had been such men as Abram is challenged here to be (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:43; Moses 7:69; Genesis 65:9). It is a fitting final phase to his call and preparation.

The “noble father” [Abram can be translated as “high father,” which can connote “exalted father” or “noble father.”] Abram was at last to become Abraham, “a father of many nations”; indeed “nations and kings” would come from him. but greater still, with him and his seed after him the everlasting covenant of God would be established. (Recall Genesis 17:7.) This covenant is the basic, all-pervading, everlasting covenant bearing the “blessings of the gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.” (Recall Abraham 2;11.) It is the covenant prepared before the world was, providing a Saviour to bring man back into the presence of God after earth life is over; it is the covenant of redemption implemented by the “Lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world …” (I Peter 1:19, 20), and who volunteered to fulfill His part in that covenant according to the Father’s wishes. (Moses 4:2.) It is the covenant whereby man can return to th presence of God, and enjoy eternal life and salvation if he will but accept the covenant and fulfill his obligations under it.

In our dispensation, acceptance of the covenant is properly by baptism, and so it was long ago in the dispensation of the meridian of time (John 3:3-6). It was likewise known ancient in the time of Alma (Mosiah 18:8-17) and indeed in the time of Adam (Moses 6:59-68). But according to inspired information given by Joseph Smith on the subject, baptism had fallen into disuse by Abraham’s time and unauthorized substitutions had been instituted along with false traditions about the atoning sacrifice. (See the Inspired Revision of the Bible on Genesis 17:1-13.) It appears that circumcision was temporarily instituted as the sign of the eternal covenant for Abraham and his followers. (Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27.) Note that the “sign” of the covenant was not eternal, although the covenant itself is. After Christ’s coming there was a resumption of baptism and a cessation of circumcision. (See Acts 15:1-28; also Galatians 5:6; 6:15.)

As Abraham’s name had been significantly changed to Abraham, so was Sarai’s changed to the significant form of Sarah, meaning “a princess,” doubtless to re-echo the blessing and promise that she would mother “nations,” and kings of peoples should come of her. (Genesis 17;16.)

The problem of progeny for Abraham and Sarah was answered. They were given the promise on the one hand that Ishmael, the son born to Hagar, would become a great people; and on the other, that a son belatedly born to Sarah would bear the covenant birthright of leadership in the mission of Abraham.

The sacredness of the whole covenant-revelation and the intimacy of Abraham with God is simply but plainly portrayed with the statement that He had personally communed with Abraham in this matter – and having finished, “he left off talking with him,” and god went up from Abraham.” (Genesis 17;22.)

Shortly thereafter, a quite extraordinary visitation-revelation brought Abraham and Sarah reaffirmation of the promise of a son, and the announcement of the imminence of his birth. Three beings came as divine messengers to Abraham’s tent, concurrent with another appearance of the Lord to him. (Genesis 18:1, 2.) They tarried and ate with Abraham and Sarah upon Abraham’s urging that they accept his hospitality. He even had their feet washed – at once a ceremony of sincere hospitality as well as a practical manner of giving rest and refreshment to travelers in that hot and arid land. They ate bread and butter, milk and roast veal, the simple but generous fare of Abraham’s nomadic home. They inquired about his wife, and were informed that she was within the tent. Then came a message from the Lord: his power would now make it possible for Abraham and Sarah to have a son. Sarah heard the message within the tent and laughed within herself that she and her husband in their advanced years should bear a child. (Abraham was 99 years of age, and Sarah was 90, when their name were changed: Isaac was born a year later. See Genesis 17:24; 21:5.)

The Lord asked why Sarah laughed – as if such a thing were “too hard for the Lord” to be able to perform it. Sarah, afraid, denied that she had so laughed; but the Lord remonstrated, “Nay, but thou didst laugh.” Her reaction indeed was like that of Abraham himself upon the assurance being given him in an earlier revelation (Genesis 17:17-19) that they would yet have a son. it may well be assumed that they “laughed” in the sense of the incongruity rather than the incredibility of the anticipation. (Cf. Hebrews 11:11; Genesis 15:5, 6.) In any case, when the child was born he was named “Isaac” (Hebrew, Yitzhaq), meaning “he laughs.” (Genesis 21:1-7.) When he was named, mother Sarah said significantly; “laughter hath God prepared for me; everyone who hears shall laugh for me.” (Genesis 21:6 – literal translation of the Hebrew. Note that the same verb connotes “rejoice”.)

Abraham: The Patriarch Passes His Tests

Concept

Just as it was said of Jesus that he had not the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, so it could be said of Father Abraham (as it should be said of each of us) that he progressed step by step toward perfection in the development of his full statute.

Basic Scriptural sources

Genesis 18:16-33; 19; 21; 22; 23. Note in this series of narratives how Abraham was tried and developed through home and family problems, through crisis situations, and through revelations of the Lord which demanded response.

Supplementary Reading

References for the previous chapters on Abraham are pertinent also here, particularly the commentary-type readings suggested.

New Testament evaluations of Abraham’s qualities may be further seen in such passages as Romans 4; James 2;21-23; Hebrews 6:13-16; 7:1-6; 11:8-19.

Book of Mormon allusions to Abraham’s future glory, the “God of Abraham” and the faith of Abraham are fairly frequent and may easily be found by checking the concordance to the Book of Mormon. Pertinent to this chapter particularly are such passages as Jacob 4:5 and Helaman 8:16-19, wherein his faith and obedience and his foreknowledge of redemption are discussed.

Study Questions

1. Why did the Lord give Abraham information concerning what He was about to do in Sodom and its sister cities? With whose welfare was Abraham concerned in his ‘bargaining” with the Lord to spare those cities? Why did the Lord let Abraham go through the long process of thus “persuading” Him? Did it “prove” anything to the Lord? Does it demonstrate anything worthwhile to us?

2. How would you like to have the compliment paid you that was paid to Abraham in the Lord’s estimate of his dependability in keeping the commandments and bringing up his children to do so? (Genesis 18-19.) Why was Abraham ever further “proved,” “tried” or”tempted” after that assertion by the Lord?

3. How well do Sodom and Gomorrah deserve the reputation for wickedness for which they have been famous ever since? What evidence can you give from the story of Lot’s escape to substantiate your answer? How worthy of help was Lot? How responsive to the warning by the godly messengers were members of his family? What could have been the purpose of the specification that those who were taken out to safety away from the city should not look back?

4. Why has the indelicate story of the children produced by Lot and his own daughters been preserved?

5. How could a righteous man like Abraham feel justified in sending Hagar and their son Ishmael away? What reassured him that to do so would not deprive them of their life or destiny?

6. What further information about God’s cognizance of man’s needs do we gain from the near-tragic story of Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness without water? What is probably implied by the statement that the Lord “heard the voice of the lad” in his need? (he was about fifteen years of age by that time. What should Father Abraham undoubtedly have taught him?)

7. What final development did the Lord apparently want to bring about in Abraham by the terrible demand that he go to Moriah and “offer” his son? (The hill was in Salem, alter Jerusalem where the Temple was built. The hill was doubtless once contiguous with the eminence to the north later called Golgotha.) What evidence is there in scripture that Abraham foreknew the gospel of redemption and even the details about the sacrifice of the Redeemer?

8. Is there any evidence in the story of the death and burial of Sarah to show that Abraham was a man of good influence among his neighbors? Remember that this after all was his calling.

Commentary

An anecdote involving Lot, preserved perhaps to illustrate the results of living or not living according to God’s way of life, is briefly told; it also demonstrates well some additional facets of the character of Abraham. The first and most striking quality of this man is seen in a statement the Lord Himself made about him. Observing that an event was about to take place in Sodom which might be of concern to Abraham, the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do. …?” Then He made a statement which we could well wish the Lord might say of any of us: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:17, 19..)

A second indication of Abraham’s character as seen in this episode is shown in his response to the message of the doom of the wicked cities of the plain. he knew that Lot lived there, and the lord knew that Abraham was concerned about Lot’s welfare. (Note what the Lord did later because of this very fact – see Genesis 19:29.) A prolonged and sometimes almost humorous bargaining scene followed, in which the patriarch cautiously but courageously sought to influence the Lord to spare the doomed places for the sake of the possible fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten righteous that might be there. It was good exercise in compassion and faith for Abraham, and apparently the Lord was satisfied with his performance, for even though the cities could not justifiably be saved, those with whom the patriarch was concerned wee given opportunity to escape. Angel messengers were sent to warn them, but virtually had to take them by the hand to lead them out. Only four went out, of whom but three were saved, for one failed after all to pass the test of faith and worthiness provided. They were asked not to “look back” (cf. the meaning of the phrase, an idiom, in Luke 9:59-62.) Whether out of worry, concern, regret, or lack of faith we do not know, but Lot’s wife did look back, and perished. The others eventually settled in a cave in the mountains. Of historical significance is the fact that the Moabites and the Ammonites were later descended from Lot and his two daughters who were saved. (Genesis 19:37, 38.) As of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their corrupt inhabitants who wanted to abuse the angels – and not exempting Lot’s son-in-law who looked on him “as one who jests” (Genesis 19;14) – they were all destroyed in the “fire from the Lord.” those cities have ever since been cited in the scriptures as the prime examples of evil and its ultimate results. (Over twenty-five references to them are found in the Old and New Testaments.)

Another test, one which on the surface Abraham seems not to have passed very well, occurred when friction again arose between Sarah and Hagar over their children. Ishmael was fifteen or sixteen years of age when Isaac was old enough to be weaned (see Genesis 16:16; 17:24, 25; 21:5, 8). With that age differential perhaps the trouble should not have been expected to arise, but it did, as it will between supersensitive people with personal problems such as Sarah and Hagar had. Sarah saw Hagar’s son “mocking” or making fun of Isaac. (Genesis 21:9.) She made it the occasion to demand that the bondwoman and her son be cast out in order that Ishmael would not inherit along with Isaac. Since Hagar was Sarah’s property, Abraham could have been expected as before to have left the matter in Sarah’s hands (Genesis 16:6). but the demand troubled him; after all, Ishmael was his son. Only upon God’s assurance that Ishmael would be preserved and become a “nation,” though Isaac indeed would inherit the call to be transmitted to his seed, did Abraham arrange to give Hagar and Ishmael provisions and send them away. But the provisions were not enough. Mother and son evidently wandered southward into the wilderness of Paran, and when they ran out of water only the intervention of God prevented a tragedy. The “God-Who-Sees” (recall Genesis 16;13, 14) proved once again to be cognizant of the plight of suffering souls; he “heard the voice of the lad,” directed the mother to a source of water, and thus saved them. though the concept of this father-like God who hears and helps is common enough for us, the point should not be missed that it is out of such ancient examples, in stories such as these, that our concept of God has been built up.

The “final test” of Abraham in point of significance, seriousness of purpose, and severity of trial came when “God did try Abraham” by commanding him to take his birthright son to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him. [Genesis 22:1, 2, “Try” or “test” is a better word than “tempt” to translate the Hebrew word nissah. It is the same word David uses in I Samuel 17:39, concerning Saul’s armour. Note the possible significance of the name Moriah, which easily translates to “my guide is Jehovah.”] This was indeed a trial of Abraham’s faith and obedience; for God had already said He knew him that he would be faithful, keep the commandments, and command his children so to do after him. Why would He further test Abraham? It does provide a test-case demonstration to the heirs of his faith. It seems not unlikely too that the experience taught Abraham something of the redemptive sacrifice to come. Jacob, brother of Nephi, speaks of Abraham’s sacrifice as a “similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.” (Jacob 4:5.) Jesus indeed indicated that Abraham had known of Him and His coming, for He said to the Jews of his time, “your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56.)

The details of this test of Abraham should be read carefully in the Biblical account. do not fail to note the faith of Abraham in saying to the young men he left at the foot of the mountain, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and we will return again to you.” The pronoun we is definitely expressed in the original Hebrew account. note also the significance of the faith and probable inspiration in Abraham’s saying reassuringly to his son, ‘My son, God will provide himself a lamb. …” God did so provide – at the crucial moment when the sacrificial knife was actually raised. It was enough; God commended Abraham for his response to this terrible test and gave him a substitute, a ram instead to offer. The two offered the lamb provided and returned, grateful for God’s redemption.

Reputation of the Patriarch in His Day
(Genesis 23)

After the incident of the sacrifice on the mountain many years passed in the life of Abraham and Sarah without any mention in Genesis. Finally, when Isaac had reached the age of thirty-seven, and his mother was one hundred and twenty-seven, Sarah died. Her husband her son mourned for her. Abraham went to the sons of Heth at Machpelah, near his home at Hebron, to buy from them a field with a cave in it for a tomb.

“… Thou art a mighty prince among us,” they said; “in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; …” Ephron, who owned the field desired, offered earnestly to give it to Abraham. Abraham received the offer graciously, but knew it was so proffered in courtesy, and courteously he insisted on rendering payment in compensation for it. It is a brief story but its implications are many concerning the repute and character of Abraham.

The rest of the days and the doings of Abraham will be considered in connection with the accounts of his son to whom elements of the call were passed on as birthright blessings. he is for all the years to follow the patriarch of all the faithful, whether they are born in the family or converted and adopted in. All who will receive the call may receive it, and be blessed with faithful Abraham. (See Galatians 3.)



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