The Abrahamic Covenant
Abraham 1-2; Genesis 12:1-8; 17:1-9
To help class members understand the blessings and responsibilities of the Abrahamic covenant.
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. God covenants with Abraham
2. We are heirs to the blessings and responsibilities of the Abrahamic covenant
With this lesson, we reach the history of Abraham, the greatest of all the patriarchs of ancient times. Abraham lived ten generations after Noah, placing his life about midway between Adam and Jesus Christ – he lived about as long before the coming of Christ as we live after that time. The 2,000 years of human history that are covered in the first 11 chapters of Genesis are prologue: Sacred history really begins with the life of Abraham, because all the rest of the Bible, and the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, are a record not of all of humanity, but of the dealings of God with the descendants of Abraham.
When measured by the standard of non-Biblical history Abraham’s life and achievements are virtually invisible. [Show map] Abraham was a wandering shepherd, the leader of a nomadic band of relatives, who moved from place to place in this region of the world, traveling as necessary to avoid famine and the marauding armies of great empires. Abraham and his descendants were surrounded by powerful nations: the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Assyrians. If you could somehow step outside of time and watch ancient history as if it were a movie, what are the chances, do you think, that this small, wandering family would even survive, much less play a significant role in the future of mankind?
And yet that is exactly the role God promised to Abraham and his descendants, in virtually the first words of the Bible that speak of Abraham:
1 NOW the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
As Latter-day Saints, we know more of Abraham’s life than the rest of the world does. Let’s turn to the Book of Abraham:
1 IN the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;
2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
3 It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
4 I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.
There is so much of importance in these verses that we almost need to go over them phrase by phrase.
Verse 2: “And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me …” What might that suggest about the happiness, peace and rest of Abraham’s life to that time? (wickedness of his fathers for at least a few generations, their idol worship, his father’s attempt to sacrifice him to a heathen god)
“… I sought for the blessings of the fathers …” What fathers? What blessings?
“… and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same …” Of what is he speaking here? (priesthood)
Abraham evidently did not get his priesthood through his idolatrous father – where did he get it? (I do not know. We know Abraham met the high priest Melchizedek after Abraham had been to Egypt; whether he had known him before, I do not know. That Melchizedek was practicing as a high priest at Salem – future Jerusalem – suggests that there were righteous people in that day with knowledge of the gospel and access to the priesthood)
“… having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God …” Don’t you wish we knew more of Abraham’s early life, and how he came to know about righteousness, and where the desire for greater knowledge came from? We do know that at some point the records of the past had come into Abraham’s possession:
Abraham 1:28, 31
28 But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.
31 But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.
Whether he possessed those records in early life, or only had access to them through the teachings of others, Abraham does seem to have been familiar with the promises made to Adam and the prophecies of the coming of Christ: he desired greater knowledge; he desired eternal increase; he desired to be like Christ, who would one day be known as “the prince of peace.”
Finally, Abraham writes that “I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” The right of the patriarchal priesthood had passed from Noah to Shem and down through a select line of Shem’s descendants. Although Abraham’s immediate ancestors had not lived worthy of that priesthood, Abraham was the rightful heir, and the keys of the priesthood were at some point bestowed on him (whether by Melchizedek or another I do not know).
Abraham then tells us that his life was threatened among his own people:
Abraham 1:15-19 (skip 17):
15 And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands;
16 And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father’s house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of;
18 Behold, I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee.
19 As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee; but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God.
At this point the narratives of the Book of Abraham and Genesis join. We read that Abraham and a few family members leave Ur and go into the land of Canaan. The Lord appeared to Abraham and gave him a calling:
6 But I, Abraham, and Lot, my brother’s son, prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise, and take Lot with thee; for 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 for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice.
7 For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly.
8 My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.
9 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
10 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 shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
11 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) 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.
Jehovah tells Abraham of three great blessings and responsibilities placed on him. What are they:
1. Land which I will give unto thy seed after thee
2. I will make of thee a great nation (posterity)
3. In thee and in thy seed … shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel
Jehovah repeated his calling a few years later in similar but stronger terms:
1 AND when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
Abraham accepted these responsibilities and believed the promises made by the Lord, and we have come to refer to this pact between God and Abraham as the “Abrahamic Covenant.”
As you know, and as we’ll talk about in upcoming weeks, Abraham strove to live up to his side of the covenant: He kept faith that he would be the father of nations, although he and his wife were very old before that promise began to be fulfilled by the births of Ishmael, of the covenant son Isaac, and of the six sons of Abraham’s wife Keturah. He testified wherever he went that Jehovah was the one true God, for all peoples and all times – his testimony was so firm and so lasting that one of the titles by which the Lord has been known ever since is “the God of Abraham.”
We see that throughout sacred history, the Lord has kept his promises to Abraham, too. We see Abraham’s posterity increase throughout the history of the Bible. We see his seed brought to the New World with Lehi and his family, and spread from there to the isles of the sea. We see the increase of Abraham’s posterity with the restoration through Joseph Smith of the knowledge that we are heirs of Abraham, either literally or through adoption by accepting the covenant of baptism.
We have seen the Lord provide a land for the children of Abraham in Israel, and in the land promised to Lehi, and in our day in a land that allowed the restoration of the gospel.
We have seen the Lord bestow his holy priesthood on the Israelites, among the descendants of Lehi, and in our own day on members of our ward in this room.
But although God made the covenant with Abraham, the covenant was not limited to Abraham but rests also on his posterity.
How do the descendants of Abraham signal their acceptance of the covenant, and make their claim on the blessings?
In particular, what obligation is placed on us as Abraham’s heirs?
Once we have accepted that covenant, what are we bound to do? (bless all nations of the earth, be witnesses to the one true God; fulfill obligations to the dead as well as to the living)
How do we fulfill that covenant?
One more point needs to be made, lest there be a misunderstanding: The descendants of Abraham are often referred to as “the chosen people.” Does being among the seed of Abraham automatically make us kings and queens? Does that mean that we are somehow better than others because of what might be an accident of birth?
After calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a “generation of vipers,” Jesus said to them:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Anyone, regardless of literal descent from Abraham, who seeks after righteousness like Abraham did, and who accepts the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant, are the heirs ofAbraham: “as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father.”
It isn’t the fact of birth that numbers anyone among the chosen people; it is recognition of the gospel and acceptance of the obligations that bring the blessings promised to Abraham.
However unlikely it might have seemed 4,000 years ago, that tiny group of wandering nomads led by Abraham has survived and thrived. They and their descendants have succeeded in keeping alive a knowledge of the one true God, who has blessed them, and will bless them eternally, according to his promise to Abraham.
The responsibility for carrying that knowledge to the world has now passed to us. It is a responsibility we cannot ignore or postpone. There is a God – there is but one God – and his Son, Jesus Christ. He keeps his promises to us, and always will. We are bound to keep our promises to Him, to bless all nations of the earth and never to abandon our testimony of Him.