Lesson 7: The Abrahamic Covenant
Abraham 1:1-4; 2:1-11
Genesis 12:1-8; 15; 17:1-9
Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-24, 29-32
Purpose: 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.
3. The challenge of living in the world.]
Today we move into an important new era in sacred history, with a discussion on the patriarch Abraham (or Abram as he was called in early life). Up to this point, the Biblical report has concerned the entire human race; with the history of Abraham, the scope of the story narrows to a single man, and his family, and the great nation they will eventually become. This is where the story becomes most interesting to me: time slows down, in the sense that we aren’t leaping over entire eras in the space of a verse or two: Instead, we dwell for whole chapters on the lives of individuals and families, learning much more about them than we ever learned about Adam or Seth or Noah.
Let’s turn to Genesis 11 and 12 and read what the Bible tells us about Abraham’s early life.
27 Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.
28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.
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.
4 So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
So, we learn the genealogy of Abraham, the fact that he is married to Sarah (or Sarai in early life) but childless, and that a few members of his immediate family were migratory, newcomers in the place where they settled. The Lord appeared to him – rather abruptly, it seems to me – and made him certain promises, without explanation, and in obedience to a direction given by the Lord, Abraham takes his family and leaves the place where they have been living for some period of time.
But Joseph Smith added quite a bit to what we know of Abraham through the Bible, through his revelation or translation, made in Kirtland. Let’s turn to Abraham 1 in the Pearl of Great Price, and read the first four verses:
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.
One thing we learn from this passage is that the Lord’s appearance to Abraham was not nearly so abrupt as Genesis suggests – we learn that Abraham had already been a long-time seeker and follower of the Lord. What had he been looking for, from the Lord? [Emphasize Abraham’s desires for righteousness and knowledge, and the other blessings named.]
Abraham also sought the priesthood, establishing his right to the priesthood after, apparently, demonstrating by his genealogy that he was entitled to patriarchal priesthood through an unbroken line of descent, father to son – or, perhaps, grandfather to grandson in some cases, but always in the direct family line. [Invite a brief discussion of patriarchal priesthood, given the makeup of this ward, but do keep it brief.]
We’ve seen from the verses we’ve read that Abraham was living and traveling with family members. While only a few of them are named, he evidently was part of a much larger family group, whom Abraham tried unsuccessfully to influence for righteousness.
5 My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice;
6 For their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to 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;
Because of their worship of these false gods, Abraham’s own family turned to human sacrifice and even attempted to sacrifice Abraham. We’ll pass over those verses due to time, but some of the details of that attempted sacrifice, including his rescue by the Lord at the last moment, can be read in Abraham, chapter 1.
We aren’t given nearly enough detail to satisfy me about what Abraham did to seek after righteousness and to demonstrate his right to the patriarchal priesthood, but we’re given enough to know that his learning came through both revelation and study.
Indicating revelation, we have Abraham 1:16, 18
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.
And indicating study, we have Abraham 1:31
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.
This pattern of learning through faith and learning through reason is one that continues among the people of God from the time of the patriarchs to our own day. What examples of learning both through study and faith can you recall from sacred history?
What do you do – not what can you do, but do you actually do – to improve our knowledge of holy things through both study and faith? Answering only to yourself, where you can be entirely candid, what improvement can you make to improve your righteousness through study and faith? Do you tend to be one-sided? That is, do you rely almost entirely on your current knowledge and current testimony to remain faithful? Do you actually study the scriptures? Or, perhaps, have you made your study such an intellectual exercise that you haven’t built your faith?
We learn in Chapter 2 of Abraham that Abraham and his family leave their homeland and travel to the land that will eventually be known as the Promised Land, or the Land of Israel. At several places along the way, they stop and Abraham builds altars, offers sacrifice, and is tutored by the Lord.
Let’s read about some of those visitations from the Lord.
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.
I love Abraham’s reaction to this revelation:
12 … I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee;
But he doesn’t just rejoice at his success; he realizes that the blessing of hearing the Lord comes with an obligation to obey the Lord:
13 … I will do well to hearken unto thy voice …
Once Abraham and his family pass into the borders of what will be the Holy Land, the Lord appears to Abraham again and makes him another promise.
19 And the Lord appeared unto me in answer to my prayers, and said unto me: Unto thy seed will I give this land.
In these appearances, the Lord – Jehovah – makes several promises to Abraham. What are they? [Guidance (v.8); priesthood among his posterity (v.9); increasing posterity (v.10); blessing to the whole earth through his posterity (v.11); land for an earthly inheritance (v.19)]
Abraham lived to see the partial fulfillment of some of these promises, but most of the blessings didn’t come until long after Abraham had lived and died. Do you think that he ever questioned how and when, or even whether, his blessings would come to be fulfilled?
What about us? How do you feel – how do you cope – when a promised blessing hasn’t yet come to pass, even after long years of waiting?
While we all naturally look to see blessings fulfilled in life, the greatest blessings of all come only after mortality. In fact, each part of the Abrahamic Covenant – the covenant God made with Abraham – will have a greater fulfillment in the life to come.
Abraham was promised by Jehovah that “my hand shall be over thee” in mortality. What is the greater blessing of eternity? [Dwell with God, know Him.]
Abraham’s descendants were given the Promised Land in mortality; what do the righteous inherit in eternity? [Celestial Kingdom]
If Abraham’s seed became a mighty nation on earth, what related blessing is promised in eternity? [Eternal increase.]
Abraham was promised that the priesthood, and the blessings of the gospel and salvation, would remain among his descendants. What is the eternal parallel to that blessing? [Exaltation and eternal life]
Modern-day prophets teach us that we – all of us, as Church members – are numbered among the seed of Abraham, and are heirs to the same blessings promised by God to Abraham on behalf of his seed. From time to time, God explicitly renewed his covenant with Abraham’s descendants. For instance, many years after the covenant was made, God renewed it with Isaac, Abraham’s grown son.
1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.
2 And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;
4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
The Abraham Covenant is renewed in our own lives, too. What part, for example, is renewed when someone is baptized into the Church? [Baptism is the first ordinance of the gospel of salvation, promised by Jehovah to Abraham]
When a couple enters celestial marriage, what part of the covenant is renewed? [The promise of eternal increase]
Most covenants, including the Abraham Covenant, are two-sided. The Lord promises the blessings, but also implies there is a responsibility on the part of the recipient – you.
What is your obligation, as an heir to the Abrahamic Covenant? [Be someone through whom the Lord can bless the nations of the earth, largely through ministry; enter marriage the right way so that your posterity is number in the house of God]
Remember what Abraham’s reaction was upon hearing the blessings given by Jehovah:
13 … I will do well to hearken unto thy voice …