Lesson 40: Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work
no assigned scripture
Purpose: To help class members see the many different ways they can participate in temple and family history work and to encourage them to prayerfully determine the ways they should participate now.
[1. The Spirit of Elijah is prompting people to turn their hearts to their ancestors.
2. Each member of the Church can participate in temple and family history work.
3. The Church provides many resources to help us participate in temple and family history work.]
1. Who was Elijah, and what is the Spirit of Elijah?
Our class discussions this year have been drawn from modern revelation and Church history. For this lesson, though, we’re going to start much further back – about 3,000 years ago, in ancient Israel. with the quickest possible review of Israelite history. [Sketch simple outline on board: a single line marked “judges” and “kings,” branching into two lines for “Northern Kingdom/Israel” and “Southern Kingdom/Judah.” pointing to appropriate place as points are mentioned below.]
You’ll recall that after Moses led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, the Israelites were governed for a time by judges. After a time, they demanded a king in place of their judges, so Israel lived under three successive kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. Upon Solomon’s death, though, there was civil war in Israel. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the southern part of the kingdom, from Jerusalem southward, followed Solomon’s son as king, and became known as the Kingdom of Judah, or the Southern Kingdom. The rest of the tribes in the north called for their king a man from Egypt who was not a descendant of David, and they set up the Northern Kingdom, which retained the old name of Kingdom of Israel.
The two kingdoms remained at odds for about 200 years. Then the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria, many of its inhabitants taken away captive, and Israel ceased to exist. Eventually the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, with many of them carried away into slavery in Babylon. A part of Judah returned to Jerusalem after years in captivity, and it is this remnant that still lived in and around Jerusalem during Jesus’s ministry.
Before the captivity, though, when there were still two kingdoms, both kingdoms had prophets among them. Most of the scripture we have in the last part of the Old Testament is the record of prophets who taught and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom. That makes sense – since our Bible is the record preserved by the Jews in the Southern Kingdom, it is reasonable that they would have told the stories and recorded the teachings of the prophets who lived among them, and would be less familiar and have less access to the teachings of prophets who lived in the Northern Kingdom.
Even so, the records of the Jews in the south preserved some of the teachings of the greatest prophets who worked in the north – some of these northern prophets were so remarkable that their words spread through both kingdoms.
Probably the greatest of these northern prophets was Elijah.
We know very little about Elijah personally. The Bible calls him “Elijah the Tishbite,” but no one knows what village or region that name comes from. His personal name – Elijah – means “My god is Jehovah.” He may have taken that name as an adult – it is a significant name, because Elijah was active as a prophet during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Jezebel worshiped the Phoenician god Ba’al, and Ahab, in order to widen the separation between the two kingdoms set up his own unauthorized centers of worship in the north, to keep his people from looking to Jerusalem for spiritual leadership. The scriptures record that
1 Kings 16:33
… Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
So Elijah’s name amounted to a declaration of loyalty to the God of Israel, and of opposition to King Ahab.
Elijah had power as a prophet that we very seldom see in the prophets of the Old Testament. Most of the prophets were teachers, who told the people what the will of God was, and who warned them against evil and prophesied of the future. Elijah, though, had the power given to him not only to teach, but to actually to bring events to pass. That is, he could command something to happen here on earth, and, drawing on the powers of heaven, the thing he commanded came to be.
Let’s read about a few of those events.
1 Kings 17:1
1 And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I sand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.
This curse of withholding rain was to demonstrate the power of Jehovah and the worthlessness of the false god Baal – Baal was credited with being the power that brought the rains every year and made life possible; by stopping the rain in the name of Jehovah, Elijah showed that Jehovah, not Baal, controlled the heavens. In response to Elijah’s command, the skies were closed and Israel endured a severe drought for three and a half years.
During the famine that resulted from the drought, the Lord told Elijah to take refuge in the village of Zaraphath, telling him that he would find a widow there who would feed him.
1 Kings 17:10-16
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.
11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
12 And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.
13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.
15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah;: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.
While Elijah was staying with the widow, her son became sick and died. The mother, asked Elijah if he were cursing her by killing her son.
1 Kings 17:19-23
19 And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed.
20 And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?
21 And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again.
22 And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.
23 And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.
There are other stories in the Old Testament about Elijah’s powers over the physical world – he called down fire from heaven to consume soldiers who were coming to arrest him on Ahab’s orders, and he prophesied particularly gruesome deaths for Ahab and Jezebel that came to pass.
** What was the source of Elijah’s power over life and death, and over nature?
We don’t know enough about Elijah’s life to know where he came from or who taught him or precisely what his calling was. Some latter-day prophets, like Joseph Fielding Smith, believe that he held the Melchizedek Priesthood, based on the kinds of things he did, but we do not have a scriptural record of that. Scripture does record the testimony of another prophet, Elisha, that Elijah was taken up into heaven without tasting death – a departure in such glory that Elisha could only describe it as a “chariot of fire, and horses of fire” and that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11)
Possibly because Elijah did not die, and possibly due to prophecy that has been lost, there arose an expectation that Elijah would return to the earth one day. That belief is so literal with observant Jews that a place at the annual Passover table is set for Elijah and the door to the room is left ajar so that he may enter. The Old Testament ends with a prophecy that Elijah would return, to fill a very particular mission:
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Elijah, with Moses, was present on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John were given a witness of Jesus’s divinity.
… a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
Although we can’t point to a single scriptural verse that neatly lays out this doctrine, Latter-day Saints believe that Elijah (and Moses), as translated beings conferred priesthood keys on Peter, James and John. [Note: They were translated, the reasoning is, because a disembodied spirit cannot lay hands on physical beings as is necessary for the transference of keys, and until Jesus was resurrected, no one else could be resurrected.]
Then, in 1836, Elijah came again to commit keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in a vision had in the Kirtland Temple.
Doctrine and Covenants 110:13-16
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi – testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come –
15 to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse –
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.
It is this commission of sealing keys by which husbands and wives, and parents and children, are sealed together in family units for eternity.
** What connection can you see between Elijah’s gifts and powers in mortality, and the sealing keys binding families together for eternity? [Elijah had the power and authority to command on earth and have his commands respected and carried out by the powers of heaven – what he bound on earth was bound in heaven.]
2. How can I participate in temple and family history work – right now, in my current circumstances, and in whatever level of interest I have?
The restoration of the sealing keys in 1836 seems to have loosed a widespread interest in genealogy – in turning the hearts of the children to the fathers.
How is that manifested outside the Church?
How is it manifested among Church members?
Latter-day Saints often have a stereotypical view of genealogy and family history work – it’s something done only by old people, and it requires hours and hours of squinting at foggy microfilms, and our boring Aunt Sadie is always going on and on about some trivial detail that you couldn’t care less about.
But the promise – the Spirit of Elijah – is that the hearts of the children will turn, not the microfilms, not the computer disks, but the hearts. What are some ways, large or small, that you have experienced a turning of your heart to your family?
[Spend the rest of the class time exploring ways that everyone – even busy people, even people who don’t enjoy history, even people who think genealogy is boring – can experience in some way the Spirit of Elijah: temple work, research, journal keeping, arts and crafts, other ways to preserve and share memories. Memo to self: Resist the urge to tell my own experiences; work on drawing ideas from class members!]