This is my outline for teaching Lesson 9 this morning. I decided to add the bit at the beginning about seeing beyond the surface of the scriptural stories, partly because my class members are already so familiar with the narrative but mostly because there has been some discussion about the difficulty of finding value in so many parts of the Old Testament and I wanted to help people remember there are more ways to find value than merely looking at the surface of a world that is so different from our own. I love the idea of types and shadows and personally find so many instances of them in the Old Testament that I want to be able to refer to them throughout the year. I thought if I laid the groundwork for that now, with the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and its such obvious foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice, it would be easier to help class members recognize them in future lessons.)
Lesson 9: “God Will Provide Himself a Lamb”
2 Nephi 11:4
Genesis 15-17; 21-22
To help class members better understand Heavenly Father’s sacrifice in offering his Son as they learn of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac.
[Display a large onion.]
In some ways, studying the scriptures is like peeling an onion. This is especially true of the Old Testament.
Imagine what we would find if I were to peel the dry brown skin off of this onion. We would find something that engages our physical senses: We would see the smooth, white vegetable; we would smell something sharp and distinctive; if we were to bite it we would certainly taste something strong and, in the right context, very pleasant; the onion might even reach out and bring tears to our eyes. This is something like what happens when we read a Biblical story: We see, for example, Adam and Eve offering sacrifice on the altar; we hear the angel of the Lord explaining to them the reason they have been commanded to sacrifice. If you have an especially powerful imagination, you might think about how the burning sacrifice smells, or perhaps grieve for the perfect young animal that gave its life. God evidently thinks it is important for us to know a certain amount of what mankind has done in the past, because such a large part of our scriptures are stories (rather than sermons) that we can see and hear in our minds.
But if our study of the scriptures were to stop at that level, it would be like using the first layer of an onion and throwing away all the rest. If we peel off the first layer of onion, we discover that there is another layer beneath it that is just as valuable as the top layer. That is true of the scriptures, too: If we look beneath the surface of the literal story we very often find a lesson that is applicable not just to the people of thousands of years ago, but to us, today. We realize, for instance, that “sacrifice” doesn’t mean only the slaughtering of a perfect young animal on a stone altar, as Adam and Eve did it. “Sacrifice” also means surrendering our own desires and wealth and carnal interests and submitting ourselves to the will of God.
But again, our study of the scriptures would be incomplete if we only read the stories to look for personal application. Nephi tells us:
4 Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.
(2 Nephi 11:4)
Similarly Jacob spoke of the scriptures as all testifying of Christ:
11 And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.
So another essential layer of scripture study is to look for ways in which a story testifies directly of Christ. The ancient practice of animal sacrifice, for instance, is a foreshadowing of the Savior’s giving his own life for us. Sacrificial animals were required to be the perfect, without blemish, and first-born animals, all pointing toward the perfection of Christ and his status as the first-born Son of God.
Just for practice, let’s look at the ordinance of baptism. [Divide the whiteboard into three sections, and note brief answers offered by the class:]
The first layer of understanding baptism is the physical, surface details. What do we see and hear and feel at a baptism? [Candidate led down into the water; a prayer is said and the candidate is lowered beneath the water and raised back to a standing position; white clothing; arm raised to the square; etc.]
What is the symbolic meaning of these elements? [Water symbolically washes away sin; the old, sinful life is buried and the candidate is raised to new life; white represents purity; the arm to the square reminds us that this is a covenant before God; etc.]
What elements of a baptism testify, or point to, Jesus Christ? [Going down into the water is like his being placed in the tomb; raising up out of the water is like his resurrection; etc.]
There may well be other layers to fully understanding the scriptures, but these three – knowing the outward story, considering a symbolic application to our own lives, and looking for the elements that testify of Christ – are at least three of the most important. As we read today of one of the most important incidents in the life of Abraham, please keep these three “layers of understanding” in mind.
Scripture Discussion and Application
Much of our lesson today reviews incidents that we have discussed in the past few weeks. They all point to the great culmination of Abraham’s life.
1. Abraham is nearly sacrificed by the false priests of Pharaoh.
In the first chapter of the Book of Abraham, we learn that the idolatrous priests of the Chaldeans offered human sacrifices to their idols. Abraham tells us that after he had sought for what he called “the blessings of the fathers” and to receive the keys to administer the priesthood (“the right belonging to the fathers”) (v. 1) “the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also” (v. 12)
Let’s read verses 15-19 to see what happened next:
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;
17 And this because they have turned their hearts away from me, to worship the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; therefore I have come down to visit them, and to destroy him who hath lifted up his hand against thee, Abraham, my son, to take away thy life.
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.
(Abraham 1:15 – 19)
2. Abraham has children through Hagar and Sara [and Keturah].
So partly because of the evils of his native land, and partly because of a famine, Abraham left his native land:
4 Therefore I left the land of Ur, of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and I took Lot, my brother’s son, and his wife, and Sarai my wife; and also my father followed after me, unto the land which we denominated Haran.
Why do you suppose Abraham tells us that he “took” Lot with him, but that his father “followed after”?
But the land of Haran was not to be their home for long. Let’s read again about the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham, and how Abraham sought for the blessings the Lord promised, in Abraham 2:6-16:
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.
12 Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee;
13 Thou didst send thine angel to deliver me from the gods of Elkenah, and I will do well to hearken unto thy voice, therefore let thy servant rise up and depart in peace.
14 So I, Abraham, departed as the Lord had said unto me, and Lot with me; and I, Abraham, was sixty and two years old when I departed out of Haran.
15 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;
16 Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed from Haran by the way of Jershon, to come to the land of Canaan.
(Abraham 2:6 – 16)
I love that expression – “eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation” – to describe Abraham’s condition at that time. On the one hand, he was so poor as to the wealth of the world that the open night sky – eternity – was his only covering, yet his mind and his heart were continually focused on eternity and the eternal blessings that God had promised him.
We know that during his wanderings, he became a wealthy man – so wealthy that he and his nephew Lot had to pitch their tents in different places because they had such large flocks and herds that their shepherds fought with each other for the limited grass and water available in the desert. But despite Abraham’s success in a worldly sense, and despite his faithfully seeking the Lord in everything he did, Abraham grew old without any apparent fulfillment of the promises of God: He had no child, and without a son and heir, there would be no posterity as numerous as the stars, nor any posterity to inherit the promised land, nor any posterity to carry the priesthood into all the lands of the earth.
We read in Genesis 16 that Sarah, in a righteous attempt to give her husband the posterity that she apparently could not give to him, gave her slave Hagar to be Abraham’s wife, and Abraham had a son, Ishmael, by Hagar. But we read in Genesis 17 that Ishmael was not to be the son through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled:
18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
(Genesis 17:18 – 21)
And so it happened: When Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, their son Isaac – the son in whom the Lord’s covenant was to be fulfilled – was born.
3. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
Isaac grew and showed, apparently, every sign of being a righteous man who would be worthy to inherit the blessings promised by God to Abraham. We don’t know exactly how old Isaac was when the great trial came to Abraham, but my reading indicates that most scholars believe from subtle clues in the text that Isaac was between 16 and 30 years old when God spoke to Abraham
1 AND it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [i.e., tried] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
No doubt this would have been a terrible thing for any father to be told to do. But beyond the obvious thought of losing a son he loved – and by his own hand – what other factors would have made this a great trial for Abraham? What would he be losing, even beyond his son? (Review the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, which would have been lost.)
But what did Abraham do? Let’s read verses 3-12:
3 ¶ And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
Wouldn’t God, with his omniscience, already have known that Abraham feared God, and would not withhold his son from him? What might this tell us about the purpose for our own trials and temptations?
Let’s read the conclusion to the story, in verses 13-18:
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
15 ¶ And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
[Display the onion again.]
We have spent most of our time going over the outward, physical aspects of Abraham’s story, all leading up to Abraham’s willingness to submit to God even to the point of sacrificing the life of his soon Isaac. That would be our first layer of studying the scriptures.
What might be the second layer? What lessons might we learn from Abraham’s life that can point us to the kind of lives we should be living?
How about the third layer? What aspects of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac direct our minds to Christ, and testify of Him?