This lesson comes from Ellis T. Rasmussen’s An Introduction to the Old Testament and Its Teachings. Part 1. (Provo, Utah: BYU College of Religious Instruction, 1972), the syllabus for Religion 301 at BYU. It surveys Abraham’s entire life, along with much of Isaac’s, and includes much material on the call of the Lord to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
Beware of the several places in this lesson which read the discredited “curse of Cain” doctrine into the decision to transfer the birthright from Esau to Isaac, because Esau’s wife was a descendant of Ham which, according to the old thinking, rendered her descendants ineligible for the priesthood. (More recent interpretation of the relevant scriptures is that the Egyptians, including the Pharaoh in the days of Abraham, were eligible for the priesthood, but the Pharaoh had erroneously claimed the “right of the priesthood,” i.e., the presiding authority or keys, to which he was not entitled since they had passed down through Shem’s lineage and had been bestowed on Abraham.)
Called to Father a Faithful Family and Bring Blessings to All Families of the Earth.
Abraham’s Call Was Continued by Isaac as a Birthright Blessing.
It appears that Abraham reopened communication between man and God, many generations after the patriarchs of primeval times, and after the true religious practices of their way of life had perished. How would this lead to his becoming the father of a posterity of faithful patriarchs and of prophetic preachers and writers by whom a godly way of life was exemplified and through whom God’s purposes and goals for man were clarified and codified? If you understand that, you will be able to explain to others how, through the mission of Abraham’s seed and through the Divine Redeemer all individuals, families, and nations may be blessed.
Points to Ponder While You Read
1. What did Abraham do for which he is still honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?
2. What was the “mission of Abraham,” and what is the mission of his literal and spiritual heirs?
3. Why have the accounts of his dealings with family members, friends, neighbors, and associates been recorded and preserved in Genesis in so much greater detail than were the accounts of the lives of earlier patriarchs?
4. How was Abraham qualified to receive this great calling from God?
5. How did he behave as God’s messenger; what did he do to fulfill the call during his lifetime?
6. How was the call perpetuated as a birthright responsibility and blessing for his posterity?
7. Though all of the sons of Abraham were given material gifts from Abraham as they went away to their places and ways of life, Isaac was given “all that he [Abraham] had.” (Genesis 25:6.) What would it be that could “all” be given to Isaac after the material inheritances had been distributed?
8. Why is considerable time and space used to give many details about the matter of procuring a proper wife for Isaac?
9. What evidences are there that one’s pre-mortal preparation and appointment as well as his earthly attitudes, choices, and activities have a bearing on one’s callings, privileges, and responsibilities here on earth?
10. Note the importance of cooperation between man and God if the destiny and purposes of heaven and earth are to be accomplished.
Genesis, Chapters 12-28:9. Because the narrative from this point on has more unity and the events more sequential coherence and clear detail, an overview such as provided in previous lessons is thought not to be necessary.
It would be interesting to know whether the personal, journal-like information of these chapters was derived from records kept by Abraham himself. It is known (from the Book of Abraham) that he did keep records. how long these were extant, and whether any part of them were among the materials from which Moses wrote Genesis is not yet known. (Recall earlier reference to such “materials” used by Moses in a statement by Joseph Smith quoted by Josiah Quincy in Figures of the Past, and published recently by James R. Clark in the Story of the Pearl of Great Price. pp. 16, 112.)
Supplementary Reading (Do as much of this as you have time and interest to do.)
Abraham, Chapters 1 and 2, in the Pearl of Great Price. Study also the drawing shown as “Facsimile #1” and the explanation of parts of it supplied by the translator. The greatest contribution of this book will be to make more explicit and understandable just what it was that the Lord wanted Abraham and his posterity to do that would constitute a “blessing” to other families and nations. Key passages are 1:16-19 and 2:6-11. Note also Abraham’s qualifications for his calling as he autobiographically recorded them in 1:1-4. See the source of his knowledge about the heritage for which he could strive in 1:28-31.
An atlas showing locations and travels of major characters in the story would be useful from this point on in your study. A good, inexpensive one published by the C.S. Hammond Co., Maplewood, N.J., and available at the bookstore is more than worth what it costs. The title is Atlas of the Bible Lands. Your own Bible may have maps at the end.
Notice the honor and significance attached to the name of Abraham in scriptures written hundreds and even thousands of years after his life was over. Two thousand years after his time, for instance, some people in Jesus’ time thought it sufficient for their salvation that they were merely “descendants of Abraham” (Luke 3:6-11). When Jesus accused some of doing evil works of their “father” the Devil, they remonstrated with hurt pride. “Abraham is our father!” To this Jesus replied in challenge: “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:32-39) In Paul’s day, Abraham was remembered as the “father of the faithful,” and in fact all they who have faith in Christ, whether they were originally gentiles, Galatians, or otherwise, are counted as “Abraham’s seed” and heirs to his promises. (Galatians 3:7-9, 29.) A modern prophet, 1800 years later than Paul, re-echoed the same recognition (D&C 84:33, 34, 103:16, 17. See 109:62-76, and 132:30 concerning the future of Abraham’s seed.)
There are very few comments about Isaac in other scriptures, but some of these are quite significant. he is included, for instance, as an exemplar of faith in a brief overview of noteworthy patriarchs in Hebrews 11:17-19. 2 Nephi 17:40 recalls to us the fact that the Lord covenanted with Isaac. Modern revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants 98:23-32 tells us that a law enjoining forbearance and patience in strife and trust in God’s eventual justice was given to Isaac and others of former dispensations. It is evident in one of the stories in the basic reading that Isaac practiced such principles. The Doctrine and Covenants 133:55 lists him among the worthy ones in the presence of the Lamb of God. Jesus (as recorded in Matthew 22:32) mentions the fact that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still indeed “living” and not “dead” in His day, hundreds of years after their mortal life was over.
Commentary on the Basic Readings
We sometimes get a foreshortened view of the time involved in ancient history. Note that Abraham was as far removed from the time of Adam and so far before the time of Christ’s coming, as we are after that meridian of time.
Note, for the sake of avoiding confusion, that the man we know as Abraham was known first as Abram; while his wife, Sarah was formerly known as Sarai. We shall consider presently the occasion and the reason for the name changes.
The supplementary readings in Abraham 1:16-19 and 2:3, 6, 8-11 greatly enhance the concept in the Bible of the “call of Abraham,” making explicit what Abraham was to do for the Lord and for the people of the world in communicating information about the true and living God, and making known, and available, the benefits of ministering his power, that all might attain salvation.
When Abraham and his followers arrived in the land promised, and the Lord appeared to confirm the promise, the sacrifice Abram offered was doubtless done to show his gratitude to God for His blessings. He regularly built such altars and called upon the name of the Lord wherever he went. Note that he thus began his mission according to 12:5, and Abraham 2:15, he gathered “souls” as he went along. See evidence of this in Abraham 2:18-19.
When famine conditions forced Abram’s group to go for a while to Egypt, for whose sake was it that he asked his wife to identify herself to the Egyptians by their blood relationship rather than their marital status? (cf. Abr. 2;22-25.) concerning their actual blood relationship, whereby she was called his ‘sister,” see again Abraham 2:2, in connection with Genesis 11:29 and 12:5. notice also that in Genesis 13:8, Abraham spoke of his nephew Lot as his ‘brother.” One reason for this terminology is the lack of early Hebrew words for “nephew,” “niece,” “granddaughter,” etc. Sarai was the granddaughter of Terah, but was called his “daughter” – and would have been called the “daughter” of any of her more distant ancestral predecessors. Thus Abram says truly according to their idiom “and yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” (Genesis 21:12.0 She was the daughter of his same father lineage, but her maternal line, speaking genealogically, was the line of her immediate mother, the wife of Haran. The matter is illustrated graphically thus:
Eventually, Pharaoh, after taking Sarai to be included in his harem, learned from a divine communication that she was also Abram’s wife and restored her. Why did he not punish Abram, or kill him, as Abram originally feared he might (Genesis 12:12)? Since he sent Abram away a rich man, what had caused him to respect Abram and the God whom he worshiped? (See Facsimile #2, p. 42 in the book of Abraham as to the “status” Abraham gained in Egypt, and the evidently friendly relationship between him and the Pharaoh.)
When a conflict arose between the herders of the many flocks of Abram and Lot, and a division of pasture-land was made, what can you discern about the character of Abraham and of Lot in the manner in which each conducted himself? Why, do you suppose, did Lot go to Sodom to live? It was a bad move!
It appears that the Lord again gave recognition to Abram’s generosity and reassured and rewarded him.
It appears also that Lot’s somewhat greedy choice of the Jordan Valley for his flocks, and his unwise choice pf moving his family into the “big city” of Sodom, brought trouble upon him.
But apparently Abram did not look upon Lot’s trouble as a deserved retribution for his acts; in any case he took immediate action to save Lot, showing little concern either for reasons and justification, or his own personal jeopardy. Why did he do so?
Look for two or three additional indications of Abram’s character in the things he did in the process of rescuing and returning Lot, and the other captives, along with the booty, and in his refusing any rewards from the king of Sodom.
What reasons do you see for the assertions that Melchizedek “brought forth bread and wine,” and that he “was a priest of the most high God”? (Later on in Moses’ times, broken bread and wine became important elements in the ceremonial feast of the Passover; and in the New Testament, we learn that Jesus, in partaking of the last Passover with his apostles, adopted the Passover bread and wine as symbols of His own atoning sacrifice.)
Note that King Melchizedek of Salem blessed Abram. it is of interest in this connection that modern revelation indicates that Abram at some time in his life received the high Priesthood from Melchizedek. It was likely earlier than this event, according to Abraham 1:1-4, however. See D&C 84:14, concerning the Priesthood powers given to him.
For more information about that remarkable man, Melchizedek, called a “Prince of peace,” “King of Salem,” “great high priest,” etc., see Hebrews 7 in the New Testament and Alma 13:14-19 in the Book of Mormon. As to how the Priesthood came to be called by his name, see Hebrews 7; D&C 107:2-4; and Psalms 110:4.
Note that Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek. This is the first Biblical mention of tithes. (Genesis 15:1-6)
After 85 years of life, Abram was wondering about the promised progeny, and concerned to know whether in compliance with the customs of his times (as we know from the Nuzi tablets from Eastern Mesopotamia) his chief steward, Eliezer of Damascus, would have to become his heir. Since Eliezer was from a city between Haran and the land of Canaan; it would appear that he was perhaps another of those “souls he had won” referred to above.)
In response to Abraham’s inquiry, the Lord assured him again that a son begotten of his own body would be his heir. In spite of his age he was able to “believe the Lord” and this faith was “counted to him for righteousness.” (cf. Ga. 3:6.)
In answer to Abram’s desire for confirmation of the promise of the land for future occupancy by his descendants, he was instructed to offer an unusual sacrifice of three animals, two of them female, and one male, each three years old – and in addition a turtledove and a pigeon. The reasons for this selection and the unusual manner of sacrificing them are not easily understandable to us. The number three does often connote “fulness” or “sufficiency.”
An important prophetic promise was then given pertaining to the progeny of Abraham (through his grandson-to-be, Israel, as we see later) and also concerning their sojourn in Egypt. Not only the duration, but also the reasons for the delay in a foreign land, in conditions of affliction, until the time for their eventual inheritance of the land were specified. (As to who received the blessing and privilege of living in a “land of promise,” then or now, see Leviticus 18:28; Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 6:18; 1 Nephi 17:33-35; and Ether 2:7-10. The latter pertains to the western hemisphere.
Abram and Sarai still had their problems: They were growing older (see Gen. 12:4 and 16:3.) and had not yet any of those descendants who were to be as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seas! Sarai consented that her husband take her handmaid also to wife. This, as is now known from such sources as the Nuzi and Mari tablets, was not a new social invention but was quite customary. These clay tablets from upper Mesopotamia, eastern and Central, reflect such marriage practices by neighboring peoples of antiquity. Note, however, in D&C 132:34, 65, the command of the Lord for His own purposes in this act.
Conflict and near-tragedy arose from this new union. The situation was ameliorated only by the gracious intervention of the Lord. That Hagar would look upon her barren mistress as accursed, while she was blessed with an expected child, is understandable as an attitude common to those times, and later too, as we shall see. (e.g. Gen. 30:1 and I Sam. 1:1-20). That Sarai should find such a status and relationship intolerable is also understandable. Abram gave her leave to do whatever was “good in her eyes” (as the Hebrew idiom reads) and Sarai punished Hagar.
What can you learn about God’s concern for the individual souls of His children in the attention and instructions he subsequently gave to Hagar? What gratitude for what God had done? Hagar named the place, “well-of-the-Living-One-Seeing-Me.” (Hebrew: Beer-la-Hai-Roi.)
She returned and bore Abram’s first born son, Ishmael, when Abram was eighty-six years old. But Ishmael was not to bear the birthright; he was not the fulfillment of the Lord’s original promise.
A great, preparatory challenge was given to Abram thirteen years later, when he was ninety-nine years of age. God appeared again, identifying himself with the name the All-Sufficient (Hebrew: El Shaddai) and charged Abram: “Walk before me, and be thou perfect!”
The patriarchs of old had “walked with God” – Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Noah were all so described; and Noah was said to be “perfect.” Later, Jesus charged his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) A modern prophet has said, “As God is, man may become.” (There is a book on the LDS concept of working toward “perfection,” by Joseph Fielding smith, under the title The Way to Perfection.)
As the Lord proposed the terms of his everlasting covenant with Abram He also gave him a new name, Abraham, signifying that kings should come of him, and a multitude of peoples.
The new “sign of the covenant” was to be the circumcision of all males, to be performed at eight days of age. While baptism had been the sign of the covenant of salvation in Adam’s time (Moses 6:59-68) and was known also later, before New Testament times (e.g. at Qumran, in the Talmud, and among Nephites), apparently it had fallen into abuse and disuse, and unauthorized substitutions had sprung up by the times of Abraham. (On this point, see the Inspired Revision of the Bible, Gen. 17:1-13, as amended by Joseph Smith). No mention of the restoration of baptism at Abraham’s time is mentioned but could be assumed. it is perhaps pertinent that circumcision was a discontinued as a sign of the covenant in the New Testament times, according to Acts 15:1-28, Galatians 5:6; 6:15, and Col. 2:10-15. That the two signs do not serve the same purpose, however, is evident from many writings by modern prophets and commentators. (See, for example: Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 266, 314; also Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, pp. 323, 332-333; Orson Pratt’s Works on the Doctrines of the Gospel, Vol. 1, pp. 56-57; James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, pp. 121-122, 127.)
The name “Sarai” is a bit difficult to translate, but the new name “Sarah” plainly is Hebrew for “princess”; the significance of it is seen in verse 16; “kings of people shall be of her.”
Why did Abraham laugh when he received the renewed promise of a son to him and Sarah/ Compare his response with hers later – Genesis 25:6.
Since both his son Ishmael and his son Isaac were to be blessed, what was Isaac to receive that Ishmael would not receive? Note that all sons received some things as inheritance gifts, according to 25:6.
The Initiation of Circumcision.
Note the ages of Abraham and Ishmael; since Isaac was born one year later than the events here recorded, he would have been 14 years younger than Ishmael.
In this quite extraordinary divine visitation to Abraham, three beings brought a message giving Abraham and Sarah reaffirmation of the promise of a son. The nature of these “men” or “angels” who could bathe, eat, talk, walk, etc., is probably not as mysterious as some have supposed. See Joseph Fielding smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake: Bookcraft, 1954) Vol. 1, pp. 16-17, for indications that the three were “mortals” and “brethren” of Abraham’s. The revelations from the LORD spoken upon the occasion of the visit of these men were actually spoken by the LORD< not by one of them, according to Pres. Smith’s explanation. (For other information on “angels,” some of whom are spirits, some of whom are translated beings, and some of whom are mortal men, see Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake: Deseret, 1920), p. 548; John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom (Independence, Mo.: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1944) p. 31; George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth (Salt Lake: Zion’s Book Store, 1957) Vol. 1, pp. 68-70; see also D&C 130:5.)
Note that Sarah’s laughter in response to the surprising promise that a child would yet be born to her in her old age corresponds to that of Abraham (Gen. 17:17-19). The child’s name was to allude to their response, for “Isaac” means “He shall laugh” or “He rejoices.” (See Genesis 21:6, below.)
The statement of the LORD indicating why He could trust Abraham and why he desired to let him know about the catastrophe coming to Sodom and Gomorrah is a very gratifying indication of God’s esteem for a good man. The mercy of the Lord in considering Abraham’s feelings about the destruction of the cities wherein Lot dwelt is also gratifying. Consider why He let Abraham go through the long process of “persuading” Him to spare those wicked places, knowing all the while (as is implied later in 19:29) that it was Lot and his family whom Abraham worried about. Is it evident that even though the Lord knows what we want to do and what he is to do, yet has to let us ask for it in our own way in order to let us develop by so doing: If all things were done by predestination rather than by free agency, there would be no development for us.
This picture of the crass condition of the men of Sodom, and the spiritual lassitude of members of Lot’s family makes it evident that mercy could not overrule justice and permit the cities to escape the results of their way of life, nor indeed could the hesitant family of Lot take sanctuary without some test of worthiness. One of them did not pass the test!
It appears that Lot’s daughters must have been imbued with the spirit of the times and the place from which they came; their rationale for getting children to perpetuate their family line looks as if they chose an opportune and bizarre way rather than the only way to accomplish the objective. It should not be thought that this indelicate story has been preserved to impugn the background or character of the Moabite and Ammonite people who descended from the incestuous union of Lot’s daughters with their father; as it will be found later was equally scandalous stories are preserved because they are sensational and by no means should anyone assume that because the Bible says people did such things they were thought to be approved by the LORD. People and deeds than as now were good and bad, and both kinds are recorded.
The story of Abraham and Abimelech is told with several parallels to that of Abraham and Pharaoh found in Chapter 12 above. Sarah was at this time expecting her first baby, in her old age; how Abimelech could claim to have taken her for his harem in integrity of heart and innocence of hands is not clear. nevertheless the Lord himself did intervene, apparently to spare him from sinning in ignorance, and give him correct information so that he could right the conditions that were wrong. Evidently Abimelech, like Pharaoh, learned through his experience to “fear God” and not to oppose His will.
After Isaac was born, named, and weaned, and Ishmael had become a half-grown youth, trouble again arose between Sarah and Hagar – as it sometimes will, though it ought not. Sarah appears super-sensitive regarding the welfare of her son, and perhaps callous to the welfare of the handmaid-wife and the first son of Abraham.
Abraham was naturally grieved by the demand of Sarah that Hagar and his son by her be sent away, and it was only after a revelation about the boy’s destiny reassured him all would be well, that he let her be sent away. Apparently the provisions he gave were inadequate even so, and once again it was only by the Lord’s intervention that tragedy was averted.
Significant in the theological implications here is the fact that the Lord “heard the voice of the lad” (verse 17), and once again the “Living-one-Who-Seeth” showed cognizance, compassion, and grace.
This is the most famous episode in which Abraham was “tempted.” The Hebrew word rendered “tempted” here is nissah; it means “test,” “try,” or “prove.” It is used in reference to David having not “proved” Saul’s armour in I Sam. 17:39. It is the same word used in Num. 14:22 and Deut. 6:16, wherein the people “tempted” or “tested” or “tried” the Lord. It may be surprising that any “test” of Abraham’s faith or obedience was necessary after the compliment the Lord had paid him in the Sodom story (Gen. 18:18 above.)
The New Testament makes it clear that Abraham “knew aforetime of the gospel,” foresaw Jesus’ time and was glad (Galatians 3:8 and John 8:56. The book of Mormon indicates that the offering of his birthright son was “in similitude” of the Father offering His Only Begotten (Jacob 4:5). It seems a fair hypothesis in view of these facts that the occasion here shown was arranged by the Lord to teach Abraham about the gospel, the Atonement and Redemption.
In this connection, note the appropriateness of Abraham’s word to Isaac in reassurance on the way up the mount, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb …” (Gen. 22:8). Also, it is of interest that the hill, Moriah, was near Salem, and was later included in Jerusalem; it was later the hill upon which the temple was built. It was once contiguous with an eminence north of the city which may well be identified as Golgotha. It would be appropriate that on a higher point of the same hill where the earthly seed of Abraham was offered, the Heavenly Seed became the Redemptive Offering, the Savior and Redeemer of all.
News reached Abraham about the children and grandchildren of his brother Nahor, who had stayed at Haran when Abraham migrated to Canaan. One of the granddaughters, Rebekah, here introduced, later became the wife of Abraham’s son Isaac!
Many years after the sacrifice episode, when Isaac had reached the age of 37, and his mother was 127, she passed away. In the story of Abraham’s purchase of a cave for a tomb for her there is again opportunity to see something of the character and reputation of Abraham.
The process of “bargaining” in order to make a purchase is still common in the Middle East, except that the seller usually overstates, rather than understates the desired price.
The manner of procuring a proper wife for this birthright son is instructive: Notice from whom she was to be chosen, and from whom she must not be chosen; and note also who must choose her. The wishes of the girl involved were, however, considered. The help of the Lord in the process was preeminently essential.
The procedure of the servant of Abraham in humbling addressing the Lord as “Lord God of my master Abraham,” and asking for help in fulfilling the charge of his master is noteworthy.
In answer to the servant’s request for a very practical and helpful “sign” from the Lord to help him identify the right girl for his Master’s son, the proper one indeed appeared. The word-picture of her shows her to be industrious, charitable, virtuous, courteous, and generally of good quality and in addition, very fair to look upon. She ought to have been the ideal wife. You may think though that at times her initiative and self-reliance took precedence over her scruples in a matter where she thought the end justified the means!
When he had given her a symbolic gift and had been accepted as a guest by her father’s household, the conscientious servant would not even sit down to eat a meal until he had told of his errand, his instructions, his supplication of the Lord, and his success – thanks to the Lord’s blessings — so far.
Their response shows Bethuel and his family to be respectful of the Lord’s will. they were obviously still true worshipers of Him. This fact in the background was undoubtedly the most important factor in the selection of a proper bride for Isaac. How could the next patriarch bear his birthright and pass it on to his progeny unless he had a “believing” wife who could bring up his children in the proper faith. It is almost impossible to over-estimate the importance of the character of the wife and mother in the up-bringing of the children.
In seeing how the ancient marriage contract was concluded, do not miss the fact that respect was shown for the desires of the maiden in the matter, as specifically mentioned by Abraham in his instructions to the steward charged with the negotiation.
Do not suppose the camel laden with goods for the father of the bride-to-be implies that the bride was bartered or bought. It is true that compensation for her upbringing in the house of her father was given, but she was not “purchased” in the ordinary sense and was not by any means the “chattel,” or property, of the husband. This you can plainly discern by watching her demeanor in her home in these and later stories, giving reflections of domestic life and respective status of husbands and wives.
The best wish her family could express in blessing their daughter and sister, as she departed for her new home, was that she would become the mother of “thousands of millions”! Since through her Abraham’s seed was to be called and blessed and to bring blessings to all families of the earth, perhaps their blessing was more prophetic than they knew! Note that they also expressed the mundane hope that her descendants would be free from oppressions, and indeed would be overlords over their enemies.
We could wish that we had in detail the account of Abraham’s additional family by Keturah and the account of the presentation of the holy Priesthood to someone of that family line; for in the Book of Exodus we shall see that Moses marries a daughter of a man named Jethro, Priest of Midian, of his family. According to modern revelation, he actually held the High Priesthood and ordained Moses to the same. See D&C 84:6; also Exodus 2:15, 16, 31; 18:1-11.
Note: Within these verses the assertion that Abraham gave to the sons of the other wives “gifts” and sent them away to seek their fortune in the east country, but gave charge and responsibility for all else to Isaac. This is the birthright blessing. We could wish the transmittal of the “call” by Abraham were more explicit. The confirmation of Abraham’s calling upon Isaac’s head by the Lord is made explicit in the beginning of the next chapter (Genesis 26:1-6), as indeed the passing of it by Isaac, and by the Lord to Jacob in the next generation is later (Gen. 28:10-22); it is likely more than coincidental that the hand of the Lord in these commissions is emphasized more than the hand of man.
It is good to see that Isaac and Ishmael had outgrown their old, childish relationships and could come together to perform the final rites for their father, Abraham, at his death.
Note the significance of the narrator saying not only that he died, but also that he was “gathered to his people.” Many interpretations of the latter phrase have been offered, but we think in the light of the fact that Abraham and his people knew certain facts about what we call the gospel (recall this from the previous lesson), they had a concept of the spirit going at the death of the body into the society of those loved ones who had gone before. Much later, Isaiah gives an indication of their knowing this concept. Admittedly almost all other commentators explain the same phrases with different meanings!
A concise characterization of the good relationship that Isaac maintained with the Lord.
In this family group list of Ishmael’s descendants, note that twelve “princes” are memorialized by the writer. The death of Ishmael is described as was the death of Abraham.
This typical excerpt from the genealogical book of remembrance in Genesis always begins thus, “these are the generations of …” (As above in 25:12, so here in 25:19; watch for it elsewhere.)
Isaac’s “generations” did not get started until twenty years after his marriage according to the last verse of this segment. (Note by the way that the family record of ishmael told of his death, but this does not mean his death occurred before the events next told in Isaac’s family. Their genealogical family group sheets are chronologically consistent within themselves, only 14 years older than Isaac, and his death at 137 could not have happened before the birth of Isaac’s first sons when Isaac was 60.)
Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah had to await the Lord’s blessing before getting their family. (See verse 21.)
When the firstborn children were expected (twins), Rebekah asked of the Lord to know why the strife she felt within, and received an important answer indicating the destiny of the two sons to be born to her. Remember this later when you observe what she thinks is necessary to do in order to comply with the Lord’s wishes!
The one name of the firstborn, Esau, is difficult to translate, but his other name, Edom, plainly refers to his red hair and ruddy complexion! The name of the second born, Jacob, can be translated as “he shall follow at the heel”; this idiom means “he shall assail, circumvent, overreach, or supplant” and was given by the mother because of her knowledge that he would take the birthright rather than the firstborn.
when the boys were grown, Esau was described as a hunter or a man of the field, while Jacob was called a “plain” man. The translators could have used a more illustrious adjective than “plain,” as the Hebrew word used here has the same root as that used in describing Noah in Genesis 6:9 and Abraham in Genesis 17:1 – and translated “perfect” in both of those cases. In its singular form as here used, however, it is also in several places translated in the Bible to such words as ‘complete, sound, wholesome, or having integrity.’
In any case, the interests of the two boys were different, and Jacob definitely was interested in continuing the pastoral way of life with the flocks and herds.
So far as the parental favoritism is concerned, it is to be hoped that both parents loved both sons, in spite of the division of favor indicated in these verses. Rebekah’s sponsoring of Jacob’s welfare would derive from her prayer and answer before the boys were born. (Recall 25;23.0
Is it possible that Esau exaggerated his condition of hunger upon returning from the hunt when, upon smelling Jacob’s lentil soup cooking he reasoned, “I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do me?” Really, one dies from hunger after a long period of emaciation, rather than dropping over suddenly from a siege of strongly stimulated appetite! The Bible writer was impressed, according to verse 34, with the fact that Esau must have “despised his birthright” to trade it for a bowl of soup. There is no question but that Jacob took advantage of the opportunity to bargain for the birthright, but to think of him as a hard, cruel man who would not feed a starving, dying brother without compensation hardly fits the picture.
Because of one of the cyclical droughts, causing a famine, Isaac went from the grazing lands around the well of La-Hai-Roi in the Negev (25:11) to Gerar, less than ten miles from the Mediterranean seacoast, in the lower plain of Philistia. The Lord assured him it would not be necessary to take refuge in Egypt and indeed officially confirmed the former blessing of Abraham upon him as to land, seed, and their mission to bring blessings to all the nations of the earth. But Isaac’s whole blessing was conditional upon his merit; Abraham was able to retain it, and it had come on down to Isaac as the Lord said, “because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” That was what Isaac had to do also.
Isaac also employed the ruse of telling the people of a foreign place that his wife was his “sister.’ (Actually she was his double first cousin once removed. But you may recall from the previous lessons that Biblical Hebrew customarily describes all the descendants of a common forefather as “brothers” and “sisters.”) The incident here is much like that of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt and also in the same land of Abimelech, as told in 12:9-20 and 20:1-18. Whether the same Philistine king had the experience with both is not indicated, but since a time interval of 60-80 years is involved, it would seem likely that they were two different kings of the same royal line and name. coincidentally, the name Abimelech may be translated, “My father is king,” and could plausibly be the title of a dynastic family, given to each king in succession, just as the title “Pharaoh” was used in Egypt.
Isaac’s blessings and prosperity aroused jealousy, fear, and some predatory acts against him in spite of the kings’ proclamation of tolerance (v. 11 above.) Isaac’s behavior in this situation illustrates one great trait of character of this patriarch. he evidently followed the law of patience and forbearance under persecution, which modern revelation indicates was given to him and to others in those ancient times. (D&C 98;23-32.) It impressed the Philistines, who “saw that the Lord was with him.” This is, of course, a good way to make known the name and nature of the LORD.
Esau married girls of the Hittites, who were descendants of Heth, the son of Canaan, the son of Ham. (Recall Gen. 10;15.) In light of this, and the information before considered in Abraham 1:27, the “grief of mind” of his parents is understandable, for the mission of Abraham could not be carried out by people spiritually or culturally disqualified.
Was Rebekah right in desiring the birthright blessing for Jacob? You recall the experience which would have been the basis for her motivation. What Jacob’s motivation was is not immediately evident. It is true that a “double portion” of the material property of the father was apparently the normal heritage of the birthright son, while the others received a “single portion” only. But the major item of importance in the Abrahamic succession was the right of leadership in the mission of Abraham. Why Rebekah chose this dangerous and nefarious way to alter the procedure when she heard Isaac’s plan to give the blessing to Esau is not known. It is also not known whether she had ever tried to inform Isaac of her revelation in answer to prayer, received years before. It is not likely that the will of the Lord would have been flouted by Isaac had he known; and it is not likely that he could have, directed by the spirit of the Lord.
It is further not likely that Jacob could have profited by a blessing procured under false pretenses. (cf. D&C 130:20-21, or Deut. 28.) The blessing words could be pronounced, and not be retracted, and so it came to be; but worthiness for fulfillment of the words before gaining powers and privileges, would br mandatory. Find evidences later in the story as to whether Jacob had to prove worthy, that he got the blessings in spite of his deceitful act and not because of it (even as you and I get some blessings in spite of our faults but not because of them).
When Isaac realized it was Jacob to whom he had given the blessing, he could have rescinded it and replaced it with a curse (27:12); he did not, but said, surprisingly, “yea, and he shall be blessed.” (v. 33.) It was as if he realized that the blessing was potentially placed upon the right son in spite of the immediate situation.
Esau was also blessed – with the bounties of the earth, and with the potential to cast off the yoke of oppression; but like most of us he valued what he had lost after it was gone and rued the day he had traded the birthright off to Jacob. He bitterly resolved to get revenge by fratricide when he saw the blessing of transmittal of the birthright actually confirmed upon the head of him to whom he had bartered the right to it. The alert and resourceful Rebekah averted a double tragedy (loss of both sons – one by murder and one b execution, as the law of Genesis 9:6 would require) by proposing to Isaac that they send Jacob away to find a proper wife in her home land. Thus she would remove him from harm proposed b Esau until feelings could cool. The proposition that he be sent for proper wife apparently was approved immediately by Isaac, for doubtless he saw that it was true, as Rebekah said, that their life’s mission would be frustrated if Jacob married as Esau had.
and thus it was that before Jacob went away Isaac called him in and officially confirmed what he had formerly unwittingly done, blessing Jacob with the blessings of Abraham. Note also the instructions for selecting a wife, like those Abraham gave to his steward for selecting a wife for Isaac.
Does Esau seem to be trying to make amends in some degree by marriage “within the family” – with descendants of his half-uncle, Ishmael? Note that there is a discrepancy of names of the one wife as listed here and as listed in Genesis 36:3.) Actually this marriage could not have helped him fulfill the birthright anyway. Recall the lineage of his wife according to Genesis 21:21, then recall again Abraham 1:27.
Some Problems for Study and Discussion
1. What did Abraham do on his own initiative which caused him to become a religious reformer in Ur and to receive God’s call to a mission?
2. What were the essential things which God desired Abraham to do? What were the blessings promised to him and his descendants? Who has inherited this call today?
3. Cite two or three evidences that Abraham did bear witness of the Living God by word or action and did thus begin his mission. Could the episodes with Pharaoh and with Abimelech be in any way counted as “mission” work?
4. In the account of the capture and subsequent rescue of Lot and of Abraham’s procedure in getting help, accomplishing the objective, and then not only refusing reward but also in paying tithing, what principles of action toward one’s fellow man and towards God has the writer of Genesis shown in favorable light? Who was Melchizedek? The ancient name of this and the succeeding four books of Moses is the Torah, meaning “Doctrine,” “Direction,” “Instruction.” It is commonly mistranslated the “Law.” Do you see how the word Torah, properly understood, is a good name for these books?
5. How did Abram, Sarai, and Hagar try to solve the problem of the lack of an heir? What were the results of this attempt?
6. How did the Lord provide fulfillment of His original promise of seed to them? Why was the baby named “Isaac”? Why were Abram and Sarai given the new names Abraham and Sarah
7. What was the covenant God made with Abraham of which the sign of the covenant was circumcision? Was it the covenant that was eternal, or the sign? Of what covenant is baptism the sign?
8. What were likely God’s major purposes in the “trial” of Abraham entailed in the command to “sacrifice” Isaac, his beloved birthright son?
9. What do the events told in connection with Sarah’s death and burial reveal to us concerning the character and reputation of Abraham?
10. Why, evidently, did the bible writers preserve such genealogical data as the names of the family of Nahor, Abraham’s brother in Haran, or of the sons of Keturah, whose family group is listed after the account of Sarah’s death?
11. What made Abraham and Isaac “different” from the other people of their time?
12. What were the important qualities you recognized in the girl selected to be the wife of Isaac who was heir to Abraham’s patriarchal heritage? Why and how did the Lord help in this selection?
13. What do you think it means when the Old Testament writer describes death as a process of one’s being “gathered unto his fathers”?
14. The question may be asked, “Why was it to Rebekah that the information came from the Lord as to who the next patriarchal leader should be”? Also the question follows, “Why didn’t Isaac also get such information from the Lord”? What is your analysis? Is it likely that Isaac resisted the revealed information or that he followed his own inclinations in choosing Esau, without asking the Lord about it? Do you think it likely that as a patriarch he could have given the blessing to the wrong son merely upon the superficial motivation that he liked the meat his hunter-son brought him?
15. Even if one approves the purpose Rebekah had in view, why could one not approve the means taken by her to achieve it? Did she and her son, Jacob, know the means was wrong, and that they were liable to a curse rather than to a blessing by undertaking it?
16. What do you see that Isaac did to fulfill the mission to which his family had been called?
Summarize and evaluate the teachings about God you have learned through these accounts of Abraham and Isaac. (These could include evidences that God lives, is available to man, is cognizant of man’s needs, willing to help, etc.)